Saints vs. 49ers: 5 Things to Watch for on Saturday
These two teams have showcased their skills throughout the season and many people, including myself, have been looking forward to this matchup all year.
This will be the best offense in the NFL going up against one of the most star-studded defenses in the league. The 49ers and Saints are about as opposite as teams can be, and their differences will be shown on Saturday.
The 49ers will depend on a heavy rushing attack and great defense, whereas the Saints will depend on their high-powered offense and bend–but–don't–break defense. Sean Payton has led New Orleans to a Super Bowl win and multiple playoff appearances, and Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers in place to make a run to the championship.
Some would agree that the winner of this game will go on to win the Super Bowl, and each team has the ability to do exactly that. This could very well be the toughest game of the season for either team, and both will have to play very well to advance to the NFC Championship game.
There are many important matchups in this game, but let's take a look at the five most important ones.
Jimmy Graham vs. 49ers Linebackers
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This is a very intriguing matchup to keep an eye on during Saturday's game.
Jimmy Graham is a huge part of the Saints offense, and the 49ers will do their best to shut that factor down. The linebackers in San Francisco are some of the best in the country. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman lead a 49ers linebacking corps that has strived all year.
Graham has had an amazing season, and no one has been able to stop him, but the 49ers definitely have the best chance to do so.
There may not be a single linebacker or safety in the country who can stop Graham in the Saints' passing game, but the 49ers have the talent on defense to slow him down.
If Drew Brees and Graham get going against the 49ers defense, then it could end up being a long night for San Francisco. However, if the 49ers are able to slow down Graham, then that will help them immensely in their hopes of winning this game.
Saints' Offensive Line vs. 49ers' Defensive Front Seven
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The Saints' offensive line is one of the best in the game, both in stopping pressure and opening holes for the running game, and the 49ers' front seven on defense may be the best in all of football.
This matchup will definitely be brutal and could end up being the most important one of the game.
The Saints are very good at pass-blocking, and they like to run the ball as well. It will be imperative for them to stop the pressure that will be brought by Justin Smith and company. The 49ers will also be looking to slow down Drew Brees and that dynamic New Orleans offense in any way possible, starting with pressuring Brees.
If the Saints are able to stop the rush and open up gaps for the running backs, then they could walk out of San Francisco with an easy victory, but if the 49ers wreak havoc on Brees and the offense, then the Saints may come away disappointed.
Thomas Morstead vs. Andy Lee
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We already know how good the offense of New Orleans and defense of San Francisco is, but the best part about these two teams may be their punters.
Andy Lee and Thomas Morstead are No. 1 and 2 in the league this year, respectively. These two guys have pinned defenses deep all season and that could turn into a huge factor of Saturday's game.
The difference here is that the Saints have the offense to get out of deep territory, and the 49ers may not be able to do that consistently. It will be more important for the 49ers to win the field-position battle because of this reason.
Both of these punters have the ability to hurt the opposing offense by pushing them into their territory, and the punter with the better leg will surely help his team towards a victory in this game.
Saints' Defensive Line vs. Frank Gore
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Frank Gore is still one of the best running backs in the NFL, and the 49ers depend heavily on him.
The Saints' primary goal on defense will be to shut down Gore and keep the 49ers from maintaining possession throughout the game. The defensive line of the Saints has talent, but has underperformed greatly in 2011. The stats show that the Saints have a top-15 run defense, but that is primarily because most teams are just passing the ball against New Orleans.
However, on Saturday, the Saints will focus on filling the box with eight guys and keeping Gore and the 49ers' run game contained. I believe that the Saints can do this, but it will be tough.
The 49ers will try to get Gore going early and often, and they will need to if they want to win this game. The Saints will obviously try to shut Gore down, and if they can't do that then they may not be able to win this football game.
Saints' Pressure Packages vs. Alex Smith
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As we all know, the Saints love to bring pressure, and it will either help them or hurt them against the 49ers.
The Saints will send guys on more than half of their defensive plays, but the most important part will be if they are able to get to Alex Smith or not.
Smith is not the type of quarterback to take over a game, but he can hurt a defense if they do not pressure him and leave holes open. The Saints will often times leave their cornerbacks on an island and depend just on man coverage.
That means that the rushers will need to pressure Smith so that they can get off the field. The defense of New Orleans will be highly focused on stopping Gore, but also getting to Smith.
If the Saints can get to Smith, and possibly force a couple of turnovers, then that will greatly increase their chances of winning this playoff game.