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Drew Brees is kind of good

The 49ers face one of the best quarterbacks in the league on Sunday when they travel to face the New Orleans Saints. How will they handle him particularly if he goes after their inside linebackers in coverage?

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Jed Jacobsohn

The San Francisco 49ers face their second huge quarterback challenge in three weeks when they travel to face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints this Sunday. Two and a half weeks ago the 49ers faced Peyton Manning, and it was really no contest. Manning connected with his receivers, Demaryius Thomas in particular, and the 49ers really had no answer.

The 49ers were short-handed in that game, and they could be at least a little bit short-handed again. Aside from the lack of Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Glenn Dorsey, the 49ers could be without Tramaine Brock and Patrick Willis once again. They will have Chris Culliver and Jimmie Ward, so the cornerback depth will be pretty much what has been most of the season.

In case you were not aware, that group will be facing a pretty decent quarterback. Drew Brees has been known to do a thing or two over the course of his career, and you will be SHOCKED to discover the stats back it up! Jeff Deeney from Pro Football Focus sent along his 49ers-Saints preview content, and it included a few interesting stats about Brees.

  • Ranks second behind Alex Smith with an 80.7 percent accuracy percentage
  • Ranks second in accuracy percentage on throws of 20+ yards (56.7 percent). He is 13-30 with four drops. However only 9.1% of his attempts have traveled 20+ yards, second lowest figure, only Rodgers is lower.
  • His 71.1 percent accuracy percentage when pressured ranks third behind Ben Roethlisberger and Jay Cutler.  Brees is only sacked 8.8 percent of the time he is pressured, also third best. Kaepernick has the fourth highest percentage at 24.3 percent.
  • Only uses play action 18.2 percent of the time, but his passer rating when he does this season is 134.8 as opposed to 89.0 when he doesn't.

The most interesting stat from that group is probably the limited number of 20+ yard passes. That 9.1 percent rate marks his lowest since 2007, when he had only 7.8 percent of his attempts going 20+ yards down the field. Normally the number is between 10 and 12 percent. The most such attempts during that time was 80 in 2012, so we are not talking about huge numbers.

Given the shorter passing attempts, I am curious to see how much he attacks the short and intermediate parts of the field. More particularly, how he will go after the 49ers inside linebackers? If Patrick Willis is not playing, the 49ers will be playing from a deficit in their pass coverage. Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite are very capable replacements in defending the run, but when it comes to pass coverage, they simply are not as good.

Will we see Drew Brees attempt to pick those two apart? I would assume that answer is a whole lot of yes, if he has the opportunity. The 49ers will spend much of the game in their nickel defense, but maybe they go a bit more dime, or at least work in an extra defensive back in some form or fashion. How do you see the 49ers defending Brees and that offense?