As the 49ers defense get ready for the Saints offense tomorrow, one of the factors that could impact things is how physical the 49ers get with Saints skill players coming off the line. For those that don't recall, when the New England Patriots stunned the St. Louis Rams in 2001, they got extremely physical with the "Greatest Show On Turf." That included popping receivers as they came off the line, and also making sure ball-handlers got tackled hard.
The 49ers will need to avoid any stupid hits that give the Saints free yards, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't get as physical as they can within the rules of the game. The Saints offense includes a lot of improvisation, but timing on those deep routes can be so important. I've seen a lot of 49ers defensive players comment on how receivers are still early in their routes when Brees fires the ball. A few well-placed jams at the line can hopefully disrupt that.
Former 49ers linebacker (and guy who was inevitably going to end up with the Raiders) Bill Romanowski took this idea to its logical extreme during an interview with 95.7 The Game:
They [the 49ers defense] got to lay some people out. This has got to be a stretcher game. I'm talking...bring out the stretcher and take [Marques] Colston to the hospital. Take Darren Sproles to the hospital, because he got knocked out.
I don't agree with the specifics Romo suggests, but the basic point remains the same. The 49ers need to get physical on Saturday. Drew Brees needs to feel Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks and anybody else who wants to get in on the sack party. Marques Colston simply cannot get off the line untouched.
The most interesting physical battle will be Patrick Willis versus Jimmy Graham. Both are supremely gifted athletes and both are big boys. This matchup and potentially NaVorro Bowman against Darren Sproles are two of the most interesting and also potentially most important matchups of the day. I don't know if the 49ers will have a spy on Sproles, but the 49ers will need every ounce of their athleticism to keep Sproles in front of them. But, a few big hits as he comes out of the backfield might not be the worst thing in the world.