They're the incumbent Super Bowl Champions for a reason. They started last season 13-0. There's no test as obvious for the 49ers as their week two matchup against the New Orleans Saints.
Super Bowl Champions. Let it soak in.
There is no greater contest than that against a reigning champion, and these Saints are entitled to the respect that comes with the territory.
They brings a potent, potent offense, complete with phenomenal passing game and a Super Bowl MVP at quarterback.
Now they're coming off a minor trouncing of the Minnesota Vikings, and over a week's worth of rest. The 49ers, on the other hand, are coming off a 31-6 shellacking from an average Seattle team.
A couple months ago, I thought San Francisco had a shot at this one when I published "49ers Week Two Coming Out Party: Targeting The Incumbent Champion Saints".
As Shakespeare's Mercutio said: Ask for me tomorrow week, and you will find me a grave man. San Francisco can only try to forge a home-made miracle against the league's elite aerial force.
Sean Payton is what you want from an NFL head coach: relatively young, charismatic, intelligent and successful. There's no reason his players wouldn't follow him into any battle.
Payton's team moves the ball very well on offense. They pass with more-than-amazing fluidity, and can run the ball up your nose if you get lazy against the ground game.
It's his hand-picked defensive coordinator, however, who really scares me. Gregg Williams brings the heat and the pain with a high-risk-high-reward in-your-face game plan. While opposition's offenses struggle to keep up with the Saints high powered drives, they often find themselves falling right into Williams' web.
A turnover and a touchdown later, and the game is suddenly way out of reach. If this sounds familiar from last week's butchering at the hands of Seattle, just wait and see how a champion does it.
What are we talking about here? A quarterback who at one time put up over 5,000 yards in one season. Not a typo—five-freaking-thousand yards. Brees went over it. Oh yes he did, and not on accident.
Tell me there's a player on the Saints who doesn't believe in Drew Brees; it's been a little while since I laughed hard directly in someone's face.
Not only is there no shortage of weapons for him to play with, but he makes his weapons even sharper with extremely accurate and catchable passes on nearly every throw.
On top of this, Brees has very good instincts and mobility before the launch, making it seem impossible to sack, or even pressure him at times.
You can bring Brees into a "best quarterback in the league" conversation any day of the week; he's had the numbers, and now he's got the ring to match.
Suggested strategy: I don't know but better think of something quick.
Because nothing exceeds like excess, four top-notch (more or less) receivers are about enough for the incumbent NFL champions.
Seriously, this kind of firepower might need to be illegal. I hear it's getting a close look from the federal government, and the NRA is having a hard time justifying it.
Colston, at 6'4 and 225 pounds, gives them an excellent jump-ball receiver. Devery Henderson stretches the field like a freaking rubber band and is arguably the best deep threat in the league. Robert Meachem tied Colston for the team lead with nine touchdown receptions last year, and at 6'2 and 210, he's not exactly tiny.
And then there's Lance Moore, who is a little guy at 5'9 190 pounds. This little stud had a huge year in 2008 when he caught 79 passes for 928 yards and ten touchdowns.
Basically, you can go cross-eyed trying to keep track of the Saints passing game.
Strategy: sneak 16 men onto the field, and keep 8 of them in the secondary.
But wait! There's more! Order now and we'll throw in tough guy tight end Jeremy Shockey and his new apprentice and fellow University of Miami alumni Jimmy Graham absolutely free!
Okay, nobody is free, but that's a nice touch on an already great passing attack.
Both offer even more big threats who can go up and get it, as well as run you over. Drafting the rookie to shadow Shockey seems more and more brilliant every freaking day. Given time, Graham will evolve into a very good player, but Shockey is holding down the spot in the meantime.
Strategy: politely ask him to be nice to us.
Make it stop! It's not fair!
As if the air attack was lacking something, we just have to tack on the fact that they have one of the best pass catching running backs in the entire league as well.
Sure he lost his Kim Kardashian and his Heisman, but he's still one of the most electrifying players in the NFL. Whether it's catching passes (probably his best talent) returning kicks (second best talent) or running the ball (no slouch there either) Reggie can hurt a team at any moment, on any down.
Lightning fast, agile as a gazelle, hops like a puma, and a nose for the end zone like a blood hound. These are all things Reggie Bush.
Best strategy: catch him in a fishing net.
They can block. Oh yes they can. They can run block quite nicely, but they're pass protection is phenomenal. It's possible to get a little push on the pocket, but their going to do everything in their power to keep Brees safe.
Also, they stick the big blocks on special teams that can spring big returns as well.
Their linemen haven't had too many problems at the goal line either. Truth be told, they are the dreaded finesse team that will lay you out. It reminds me of an old dynasty that used to be an NFL elite. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't envious.
P.S. Their second-round pick Charles Brown, as well as my hand picked guard Brandon Carter are both listed as third stringers for the Black and Gold. Third stringers!!!
Best strategy: don't get hurt.
You'd be a fool to call the New Orleans offense one-dimensional. Sure they're pass heavy, and they pass better than most teams in the league, but get real. These guys run the ball very well when they need to.
Pierre Thomas is their big boy, and he's the one that will smash you when you try to smash him. He's the main between-the-tackles bruiser, and he's the guy who's gonna stick the ball up your nose in the second half (unless they don't wait and do it in the first half).
And then there's Mr Bush again, who can slash inside, but is most dangerous sweeping around the outside. And yes, My Bush will go over, under, around or through you to get in the end zone.
Best Strategy: Don't feel bad, it was gonna happen anyways.
I though we went over this—Gregg Williams is the man.
Oh, but the players he directs aren't too bad either. The 49ers can count their blessings that Darren Sharper won't be playing, as he's one of the league's best ball hawks. Still, there is much to be worried about.
For starters, the 49ers scored 6 points Sunday, equivalent to the touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Marcus Trufant. Whoops—Trufant is on the Seahawks. Sorry. What's the point of this wise crack? The 49ers will need to take care of the ball, or recent history will certainly repeat itself.
On a similar note, the Saints also employ a 4-3 defense, like the one that kept the 49ers to nine, oops, I mean six points last week, and did not budge at the goal line.
They come hard with end Will Smith, and company, so Smith better not expect an easy night.
The one knock on the Saints defense last year was their ability to stop the run. Last week, Adrian Peterson totaled 87 yards on 19 attempts. Gore got 38 on 17 against Seattle.
Strategy: dig a tunnel and smuggle the ball into the end zone.
Our fans kind of suck. No, really, this venue is out dated and the fans seemed to have lost their passion so many years ago, crown noise never seems to be a factor for visitors, and it hasn't since the 1980's.
When they do get loud, it's often for seemingly no reason, or when the 49ers have the ball on offense—c'mon man!
Does SF need a fireman to direct the audience? Well, actually...
Just cheer already. There's plenty of time to look at the pretty girls later.
The night is darkest before the dawn, or at least that's what were telling ourselves when we're tailgating. There's really no reason to be optimistic about this matchup anymore.
In all likelihood, San Francisco will start the season0-2. The silver lining is that the Saints should present the 49ers with their toughest test this year (although there are no illusions of the Falcons or Packers being pushovers).
If they can come out of this game with minimal injuries and a little dignity left, it could turn out to be one of those dreaded moral victories.
To shock the world on Monday night, all they need is a miracle. Nothing more, nothing less.
And then they can move on to the next stop.