The 49ers and Saints squared off at the start of the preseason and the big story was how much the Saints defense blitzed. Alex Smith spent a sizable portion of his time in the game struggling to avoid the onslaught of blitzes. The story that creeped out was something to do with Sean Payton being displeased by Jim Harbaugh's failure to call him about setting up some sort of gentleman's agreement regarding some of the ground rules.
In a vacuum, a "gentleman's agreement" sounds a little odd, and Coach Harbaugh acknowledged as much in his press conference yesterday. He was asked if he knew anything about this and he said:
No, I don't. I really don't. Don't know anything about that. You hate to deal with hypotheticals. What somebody might have said and what somebody didn't say. It really becomes irrelevant. Certainly not aware of any gentleman's agreement. Even asked my brother. ‘Is there some kind of gentleman's agreement that you call a coach before a preseason game?' And he wasn't aware of any. Even if there was, we wouldn't do it anyway. We ask no quarter, we give no quarter, and that's how we approach things.
Whether or not Sean Payton was pissed off about something, the 49ers players who have played under Gregg Williams indicated he is a big fan of blitzing no matter what the scenario. Carlos Rogers and Jonathan Goodwin both stated Williams was a heavy blitzer, with Goodwin even indicating that Williams would blitz extra in practice.
The question will be how effective that pass rush can be five months after they ran over the 49ers all night long in the Superdome. The Saints will bring blitzes from all over and keep the 49ers on their toes at all corners. The Saints get a decent amount of their pressure from their defensive line and Joe Staley will have his hands full with defensive end Will Smith. However, the Saints leading sack man is strong safety Roman Harper, which creates some additional work for the 49ers backs and tight ends.
Given the safety and corner blitzes the 49ers can expect to see on Saturday, it makes the running and full backs and the tight ends all the more important. The 49ers backs have generally done a good job in blitz pickup, but there have been enough slip-ups over the course of the season that it will be something to pay close attention to on Saturday. Justin Peelle has done more in the blocking side of his role, but the potential absence of Delanie Walker could still be felt.
The 49ers don't want to get into any kind of offensive shootout with the Saints, but if they can give Alex Smith some time in the pocket, the Saints defense has enough weaknesses that the 49ers can get them on their heels. If the 49ers pass protection can pick up the Williams blitzes as the Saints try and make Alex Smith beat them, maybe this offense can in fact do some big things this Saturday.