SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 04: Aldon Smith celebrates after sacking quarterback A.J. Feeley #4 of the St Louis Rams at Candlestick Park on December 4, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 26-0. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The talk of the town is the New Orleans Saints and that high-flying circus offense they boast. However, I believe a rough and tumble 49er defense will subdue and contain the efforts from Drew Brees and company. After examining the Saints' 2011 regular season schedule, one could convincingly argue that the New Orleans didn't face an elite defense all season.
The Saints are also going to be a long way from dome.
Whether or not Brees believes his team is built to play anywhere, there is clearly a statistical drop-off on the offensive side of the ball when they are on the road, and not on astroturf. Astroturf is widely known in the NFL to favor a speedy pass-first offense; turf the Saints won't have on Saturday. For San Francisco to have an edge, they will have to make the Saints play 49er football at Candlestick. And they can because they are built to--1. Front Seven
This isn't the leagues' best kept secret anymore; it's become a staple for the team, and a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators to game-plan against. It features two fast, aware All-Pro inside linebackers, an immaculate 3-4 defensive line, and a premier pass rusher. Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Parys Haralson, Larry Grant - all capable blitzers. Smith, especially, will be put in position to harass Brees all day; getting him outside the pocket and uncomfortable. AND, the Saints will have no run game. That includes screens and check-downs that Bowman and Willis can handle.
2. Two Playmaking DB's
The 2010 49ers secondary had a pretty decent contain on Brees last year, not getting lit up. This year's secondary now features a Pro Bowl #1 cornerback and Pro Bowl free safety. If Dashon Goldson and Carlos Rogers have good games by not allowing any gashes deep downfield and helping in run support, it could be advantage 49ers. When these two play well, the guys around them (T. Brown, C. Culliver, D. Whitner) also play well. It's going to take a strong day from the secondary, but they play a disciplined style of football which could get the job done.
3. No Mistakes
This is a bigger deal than most care to notice but it's absolutely true. The 49ers, a once clumsy football club, now pride themselves on not beating themselves - they don't make big clerical errors anymore that cost football games. The Saints always take advantage of the opposing teams mistakes because they are well-coached and understand it's a game of inches. On Saturday, they will be facing a team that doesn't blow defensive assignments, doesn't blow tackles and don't often drop interceptions. The Lions were in much of that playoff loss, but I count at least 3 dropped interceptions by them and numerous missed tackles that led to big plays.
4. Field Position
Thanks to Andy Lee, Blake Castanzo, C.J.
Spiller Spillman and Tavares Gooden, the 49ers defense will presumably have pretty good field position for most of the game. The help from special teams will force the Saints to engineer long drives against a bend-but-don't-break defense.
I heard sometime mid-season from Jim Harbaugh, talking about something called "Turnover Thursdays," which immediately resonated with me. San Francisco finished first in turnover ratio in 2011 with an astounding +28; a real benchmark for the ball club. In 2010, the team was less disciplined and clumsier with the football. Against New Orleans last year, the 49ers had 4 turnovers to the Saints 0 and still almost won. The 49ers ability to take the ball away and provide opportunities for the offense is essential to victory and advancement in the playoffs.
So for all of these reasons and more, I believe the 49ers have what it takes to again, silence the doubters and advance to the NFC Championship against Green Bay or New York (N). And once more, the Saints have not faced a defense to the caliber of the 49ers this season. In addition to that, they are playing on the road against a hungry team that has one goal in mind.
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Week 2: Saints @ 49ers - Highlights (via SaintsHeadQuarters)