The San Francisco 49ers are home in Week 9 facing the New Orleans Saints. The game kicks off at 1:05 p.m. PT on FOX, and is the 49ers first game following their Week 8 bye. The 49ers opened as a field goal underdog, but with a lot of people wagering on New Orleans, the Saints are now a four-point favorite. The 49ers are 1-6, coming off six straight losses, while the surging Saints are 3-4, having won three of their last four games.
There will be plenty to watch on both sides of the ball. I thought we’d pull up a few potentially key matchups for the game. Some of these are player vs. player, but given the team nature of football, these are often going to be position unit vs. position unit, or position unit vs. player. What other matchups will you be watching?
Tramaine Brock, Jimmie Ward, Keith Reaser vs. Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, Willie Snead
The 49ers run defense is a disaster, but we still know Drew Brees is likely going to throw the ball plenty. Our Saints blog thinks this receiving trio might be the best yet. Snead has been handling slot work, so I am most particularly intrigued by who covers him, be it Ward or Reaser. But there’s just a lot of weapons at Brees’ disposal among his wide receivers, so I suspect it will be the biggest test yet for a 49ers cornerback depth chart that has been one of the few positives for this team.
49ers front seven vs. Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower
While I think Drew Brees will stay plenty busy, the Saints would be fools to not run like crazy against the 49ers. Brees is not some youngster who the team can’t trust, but when your opponents biggest weakness is defending against the run, why not challenge it even with the superior air game?
49ers running backs vs. Saints linebackers
The 49ers need to get the ground game going, but the short passing game could be critical to success on Sunday. Football Outsiders ranks the Saints No. 32 in defending passes to the running back. The deep passing game has not really developed for the 49ers, so they should take a look at swing passes, checkdowns to the running back in the flat, things like that. They inexplicably do not use nearly enough screen passes, so why not whip that out?
Colin Kaepernick vs. Saints pass defense, DC Dennis Allen
The passing game continues to show inconsistency, but Colin Kaepernick has at least been able to make things happen with his legs. If the Saints go to a man-to-man defense, that can open the door for some scrambling opportunities with defenders backs potentially to him. I am curious to see what Dennis Allen dials up now that he has two full games worth of tape on Kaepernick, and it is entirely clear he is happy to take off with the ball.
Joe Staley, Zane Beadles vs. Nick Fairley, Cameron Jordan, right outside linebacker
The 49ers run game has struggled to get going with any consistency, and more than likely they will be without Carlos Hyde on Sunday. The Saints run defense has been bad, but it appears that is primarily due to runs to the left side of the offensive line. Football Outsiders ranks defensive lines against the run based on run direction. The Saints rank No. 6 against runs to the right end, and No. 11 against runs to the right tackle and middle/right guard. Not too bad. However, they then rank No. 21 against runs to the left tackle, and No. 32 on runs to the left end. The 49ers rank No. 12 on runs to the left end, but then No. 31 on runs to left tackle, and No. 32 everywhere else. The left end is where the 49ers will need to make things happen.