The 49ers face numerous challenges against the New Orleans Saints this Saturday, with Drew Brees and his band of merry men topping the list. Even if the grass slows down the Saints attack to some extent, it is still an incredibly tough offense to contain. The Saints have numerous weapons up and down the roster and will find ways to mix and match their skill position players all around the field.
The Saints passing attack has been strong all year, but when they have struggled, it has often been because defenses have been able to get pressure on Drew Brees. When Brees has all day to throw, it should surprise nobody when he picks apart a defense. But nobody can wait forever when defensive linemen and linebackers are getting in their face fairly quickly. Additionally, if a QB feels enough pressure early, it can potentially get them thinking about footsteps later.
One player who has a chance to make a sizable impact in this game is Aldon Smith. The rest of the 49ers pass rush is important, but the game-plan could provide Aldon Smith with his highest playing time to date. Given the Saints passing tendencies, the 49ers will likely use the nickel a bit more frequently, to the point where they basically could be operating the nickel as their base defense.
I don't expect Aldon Smith on the field for every play, but this could end up similar to the Eagles game where Smith first burst on the scene. He was in on a majority of the defensive snaps because of the Eagles proclivity for passing. This week he'll likely face off against left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who allowed two or three sacks (depending on the source) and seven QB hits. Bushrod is a very solid offensive tackle and will present the newest challenge to Aldon Smith.
Given the 49ers lack of significant blitzing, I would suspect Bushrod will get some help against Aldon on Saturday. The 49ers will need more than just Aldon Smith in their pass rush, but given his emergence this season, he has a chance to further establish himself in the national spotlight if he can help the 49ers slow down Drew Brees.
On a side note, I know Aldon Smith has generally been called The Condor, but which ever person got 99 Problems started, I'm really liking it. Over the last few weeks of the season I started seeing more and more signs celebrating the nickname. Here is a video of Aldon Smith set to Hugo's version of 99 Problems. I'd prefer the Jay-Z version set to actual highlights, but I can live with it for now.