Can you feel it? We’ve waited so long for this, and endured losing season after losing season. Our San Francisco 49ers are set to play their first playoff game since 2002, and there is magic in the air. Hopefully they’re as ready as we are because they are going to have their hands full with the New Orleans Saints coming to town.
All week we’ve had the same questions jammed down our faces: “Can the 49ers score more points than the Saints.” “Can Alex Smith keep up with Drew Brees?” We all know the answer. The 49ers aren’t the type of team that goes out and tries to beat their opponents by scoring 40 points. Those are the kinds of questions you ask about similar teams. The Detroit Lions for example, have already shown us twice, that you can’t get in a shoot-out with Drew Brees and expect to win. Their game plan was to match the Saints score for score, and hope they had the ball last to win the game. Because of undisciplined tackling, and failure to get turnovers, the Saints easily beat Detroit. It is a different story in San Francisco. The 49ers will control the clock with a power running game, and the defense will keep the damage to a minimum. Running back Pierre Thomas ran all over the Lions, much of it after initial contact. Patrick Willis and Co. do not miss tackles very often. Drew Brees was nearly picked off a couple times, but was fortunate the secondary dropped the passes. Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson were voted into their first pro bowls because they capitalize on throws that should be intercepted. The media has everyone in love with the sexiness of a high powered offense, but a stout defense is primed to take this game over.
The last time the Saints lost was a shocker. They lost in St. Louis to the Rams, who didn’t win another game after that. In that game, the Rams rushed the ball 31 times for 185 yards. The time of possession kept Brees on the sidelines, and didn’t allow him to get into a rhythm. The Saints aren’t as good on the road, even if it’s in another dome apparently. Disappointingly, the weather looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day at Candlestick. Despite that, I still expect an advantage over the 5-3 on the road team.
Sack master Aldon Smith should be able disrupt the passing game. Brees is good at avoiding the rush; he has a natural ability to sense when a defender is near. Smith though, is the best pass rusher on the team, and is on the fringe of being one of the best in the league. He just missed the rookie record for most sacks in a season, and should be able to get past the offensive line to make Brees uncomfortable. Center Jonathan Goodwin’s knowledge will help the defense with some pointers on his former offensive line. (Any pre-snap tendencies Drew Brees has at the line for example.)
Unlike the Green Bay Packers, the Saints aren’t one dimensional. Why opponents bother biting on any play-action Aaron Rodgers does is beyond me. Thomas, electric Darren Sproles, and Chris Ivory are a different story. The can all run the ball, and are also threats to catch. The defense will certainly be busy on every level. Their receivers are all talented, but have a knack for dropping some passes. Hoping for the receiver to drop a ball though, is not good defense. Defending this offense will take hard work and skill, but that’s what the defense has been all season.
Offensively, the 49ers will have to score touchdowns. The lack of red zone success towards the end of the year is a bit of a concern. Field goals will not cut it against this team. Frank Gore has to get into a groove quick, and continue to move the chains throughout the game. Alex Smith has to keep playing how he’s been playing all year. The defense has gotten all the credit for the turnover ratio by getting 38 takeaways, but the offense did its part by only having 10 giveaways. The Saints had a -3 ratio with 19 giveaways. Although we saw in the Arizona Cardinals game that even by creating multiple turnovers, if the offense doesn’t score touchdowns, the takeaways don’t mean anything.
Our team has worked so hard this season, and it’s felt so good to bask in the glory of a playoff caliber team. Being one and done in the post season would be crushing. I believe the 49ers can pull out a win, and prove they shouldn’t have been underdogs in their own house. Let’s go 49ers! Beat the Saints!
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