The Saints are traveling to San Francisco for the divisional round of the playoffs, and both teams hope to earn a trip to the NFC Championship next week. However, both teams will have their hands full, and each will need to play very well to advance.
The Saints are a slight favorite in this game, but many have chosen the 49ers to win against Drew Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense. New Orleans is known as the best passing team in the league because of Brees, Sean Payton and the weapons on that roster.
In 2011, the Saints seemed to break an offensive record every other week, and some of them were the biggest in NFL history. Brees broke the mark for passing yards in a season, Darren Sproles broke the record for all-purpose yards in a single year, and at one point, Jimmy Graham held the record for most receiving yards by a tight end.
However, what many people underappreciate is the running game of the New Orleans Saints. The Saints do come into Saturday's game boasting the No. 1 passing offense, but they also have the league's sixth-best rushing attack.
The three-headed monster that consists of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory have ran the ball well the entire year. In fact, I am sure that the Saints could have the NFL's best passing attack if they wanted to, but why would they be a run team with a quarterback like Brees and weapons like Graham, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson.
The 49ers have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but they will need to play their best defense of the season, and even that may not be enough to stop New Orleans' offense.
There are not many teams that can shut down Brees and company, especially this season. The factor that makes the Saints so dangerous is that they can hurt an opposing defense in many different areas.
During this game, many people are expecting the Saints to air it out, and most say that they will not be able to run the ball well against the 49ers. However, I believe that they will get the run game going early with Ivory pounding the ball, then throwing in Thomas and Sproles to change the pace and get outside.
If the 49ers are able to stop these backs, then that still leaves the major problem of stopping the Saints' passing attack. Where are the 49ers supposed to start in stopping these guys from throwing the ball?
Unlike most teams, the Saints have options all over the field. They can go in the middle to trustworthy targets like Colston and Graham, or they can throw it deep to speedy receivers Meachem and Henderson.
New Orleans also has the option of throwing underneath to their running backs, and we cannot forget about the reliable screen play to Sproles and Thomas—two of the best screen backs in the league.
Now, the 49ers may be able to shut down one or even two parts of the Saints' offensive game plan, but that still leaves three or four other areas that the Saints can capitalize. The 49ers are simply choosing which area they do not want to get beat in, only to get thrashed somewhere else.
Teams have done this all year. They will come into the game with the thought of shutting down one receiver only to see another one catch for 100-plus yards and two touchdowns, or they will focus on one running back just to witness the other two combine for 150 yards and three touchdowns.
No matter what the 49ers choose to focus on, they will get beat. The Saints may not be able to put up 600 yards and 40 plus points, but I would not be shocked to see 400 yards and a 30-point game put up by Brees and the Saints.
This league has truly turned into a pass-first, offense–wins–championships type of league, but the Saints can win in either facet of the game.
It 's up to the 49ers as to which one they would rather get beat by.