Funny, the closer we get to this game, the more the pundits are turning against the 49ers. What started out a weeek and a half ago as a solid match up between the best offense in the NFC and the best defense in the NFC has now devolved into a Drew Brees love-fest. “No one can stop him” “The Saints are on fire.” Sproules will gash them since the Niner D has to respect the pass” on and on and on. Horeshit, mainly, but that’s the perception out there. The thing is, as Flav alluded to, Norleans had a pretty easy schedule. Especially on the road. Of their road games, only GB and Atl had winning records. FWIW, NO’s strength of schedule index was -1.6. The Niners were -1.1. That tells me a lot. Well, not really, but the Niners won some tough road games, Philly, Cincy, Detroit, and Seattle being the tough ones. They both beat 2 playoff teams on the road, and they both took care of business at home.
The thing that gives me hope is that the Niners have played similar teams to NO. Mainly Detroit. A team that is fast and stout defensively. For all the gaudy numbers by NO last week, Detroit closed NO’s lead to 24-21 into the 4th quarter. Detroit pressed and flailed in the end, and NO got some garbage time points, but the point remains that Detroit wasn’t out of this game til the end. And the fact is, NO hasn’t played a defense near the strength of the Niners. The Niners as we all know are #1 against the run. The Niners have knocked out 5 or 6 starting RBs this year. They hit hard, and teams get tired of beating their heads against that wall. The Niners give up passing yards, but do not give up long TDs. I other words, the Niners DON’T have to alter their normal defensive strategy too much to play the Saints. Stop the run, force the pass, defend the deep balls.
NO is very adept and the underneath stuff, and this is where I’m hopeful that Patrick Willis is fully recovered. He drops into coverage a lot, and he’ll be covering Jimmy Graham. He of the 99 catches and 1310 yards. A tough assignment. He and Marcus Colston offer a pretty tough set of pass-catchers to defend against. They can go underneath to him, or over the top with Colston. As usual, a lot of the success of the Niners falls on the front 7 and how much pressure they can get on Drew Brees. I’m sure the Niners will come out and rush 4 from the start. Mainly to see if they can cause enough havoc with their base defense. Given my druthers, I’d think about getting Aldon Smith more reps on 2nd down. try to force matchup problems on 2nd and long plays.
In the end, this game is reminding me more and more of Super Bowl XXIX. Miami came in as the darling offensive juggernaut that was supposed to steamroll everything in its path. The Niners, who practice against a vastly superior defense (then and now), stopped them by the 2nd quarter and coasted to victory. Hey, it could happen . . .