Division Playoff Breakdown
49ers vs Saints
The first game of the weekend is certainly the most intriguing of the bunch. The red hot Saints come marching into San Francisco on a nine game win streak capable of blowing up the scoreboard at any moment while the 49ers are fresh off a much needed bye week, rested up and ready for their first playoff game since 2002. This is a classic battle of strength (Saints offense) vs strength (49ers defense). Quarterback Drew Brees led the Saints to a 34.2 points per game average this season which is second in the league, coincidently the 49ers defense gave up a mere 14.3 points per game average which is also second in the league. Where it falls between or if it even does is the key to the game.
The 49ers offense is not capable of putting up the video game numbers on the scoreboard that the Saints are. Only three times this season have the 49ers scored 30 or more points while the Saints on the other hand have done it eleven times. If Brees starts feeling it and gets into a rhythm with his offense early this game could get out of hand quickly. Brees has a whole arsenal of weaponry at his disposal. The best tight end in the league Jimmy Graham, who took the position to a new level racking up over 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns. Mr. reliable Marques Colston who again had over 1,000 yards is the headliner of the wide receiver core. Rounding up the rest the receiver squad is the trio of Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore all of which gained at least 500 yards and over 12 yards per reception average. Despite popular belief the Saints are not all about aerial fireworks, they were the sixth ranked rushing team in the league gaining 2,127 yards on the ground this year. Dual threat Darren Sproles is just as good running as he is catching passes out of the backfield. He shiftiness is best used on draws, screen passes and check downs all of which he can turn into a touchdown in the blink of an eye. The hammer of backfield Chris Ivory is used to pound the defense into submission when running the clock out at the end of games or on short yardage plays. Finally there is Pierre Thomas who might be the best all around back of the bunch combining the toughness of Ivory with the elusiveness of Sproles. So how do you stop Brees and his band of touchdown scoring buddies?
You don’t. The 49ers job is not to stop them, that is Sisyphusian task, it is to slow them down just enough and when the opportunity arises create or secure turnovers and capitalize. The good thing for the 49ers is they are the best in the league at doing just that, with a plus 28 takeaway to giveaway differential. As good as Brees is he has a tendency to give the defense one or two shots a game at an interception and when he does the 49ers better take advantage. This falls on the shoulder pads of two 49ers resident ballhawk Carlos Rodgers who was never known for his hands until this year, his first with the 49ers, where he hung on to six interceptions, tied for the team lead with safety Dashon Goldson, who was better known for his vicious hits over the middle. These two gentlemen must come through if the 49ers hope to have a chance, but they need help from the frontline to generate pressure on Brees. Leading sack man and Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite Aldon Smith is just the man, he burst upon the scene with 14 sacks this year and gave the 49ers a weapon they haven’t had since Charles Haley. Throw in veterans Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks who had a combined 20 sacks amongst them and the 49ers have just the recipe to cook up some turnovers be it strip sacks or interceptions.
Even if the 49ers do create turnovers it does not ensure victory. They have to be able to score touchdowns and that has been a major problem this year. The 49ers are the 30th ranked team in red zone percentage when it comes to scoring touchdowns at a mere 40.74 percent. When a kicker, even in all pro like David Akers is this year, breaks the season scoring record it means your scoring too many field goals and not enough touchdowns. To say Akers blew past Jerry Rice for the record is an understatement, Akers 166 points was a full 28 points (that is four touchdowns or in Akers case nine field goals and an extra point) more than Rice. There is one alternative touchdown source that the 49ers can tap into- special teams.
The 49ers have one last game breaker in kick and punt returner Ted Ginn Jr, special teams ace and a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He has racked up over 1,600 yards and two touchdowns combined in both kick and punt returns this year. He needs to break one for the 49ers or at the very least win the field position battle and set them up to score touchdowns if he doesn’t himself.
So if the 49ers can do all this: slow down the Saints offense, pressure Brees, get turnovers, score touchdowns instead of field goals, and score on special teams they have a chance to win on Saturday. That is a lot of ducks to line up in a row and that only gives them an edge in the game. So can the 49ers win, yes. There is always the saying any given Sunday or in this case Saturday. It means anything can happen and any team can win on a single day, all it takes is a whole lot of ducks.
Tags: 49ers defense, aerial fireworks, backfield, blink of an eye, bye week, devery henderson, drew brees, dual threat, eleven times, first game, game average, game numbers, lance moore, marques colston, playoff game, popular belief, receiver core, robert meachem, sproles, wide receiver