3 Keys to Victory for the 49ers Against the Saints

Matt Holder

The most difficult stretch of San Francisco 49ers schedule is almost over but not before a trip to New Orleans. After losing on a walk-off field goal, the 49ers will be looking for redemption in Week 14. Unfortunately, the Saints aren’t an ideal opponent for a bounce-back game.

The NFC South Champions are littered with talent on both sides of the ball. Offensively, opponents have to worry about weapons like Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, not to mention a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees. Then, defensive players like Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore make it feel like New Orleans has no weakness.

San Francisco has plenty of studs in their own right, and with both teams entering the contest at 10-2, this game has a lot of playoff implications. Not only does a win give the victors more confidence heading into the postseason, but also a significant advantage when it comes to a first-round bye. Of course, the Red and Gold need to catch the Seahawks to get the Wild Card round off, and a loss significantly dampens the 49ers’ hopes a division title.

Jimmy G Let it Geaux

When it comes to the Saints’ defense, there aren’t a whole lot of holes, however, pass coverage is one area of vulnerability. New Orleans allows 254.1 passing yards per game, which is the ninth most in the NFL and the team has a mid-tier Pro Football Focus coverage grade. While throwing the ball isn’t San Francisco’s strong suit, quarterback Jimmy Garappolo and the receiving core need to have a big day.

While he got off to a sluggish start, Handsome Jim has played well down the stretch. In the last six games, his completion percentage has dipped below 70 percent once and he has thrown for 14 touchdowns. Part of the reason for the quarterback’s success is rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel has come into his own recently with 20 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns in the last four games.

As long as the Red and Gold’s offensive line can hold up against the Big Easy’s pass rush, this weekend could become a career game for Garappolo.

Win the Trenches

As mentioned above, the Saints have a bunch of offensive weapons, but what can get overlooked in their offense is how good the linemen are. Their big uglies have allowed 21 sacks on the year, the sixth-fewest in the league, and Rotowire ranks the unit as the fourth-best. Luckily, the 49ers pass rush is just as good.

San Francisco ranks second in the NFL with 45 sacks on the year and the team has a top-five Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade. This will be a matchup of who gives in first and might be the Red and Gold’s best answer for stopping all of the weapons on New Orleans’ offense. As his Twitter handle points out, it’s very difficult to cover Thomas and opponents’ best option is to limit the amount of time Brees has in the pocket. Otherwise, it’s really hard to guard Mike.

No Cheap Ones

This key is specifically aimed at special teams coordinator Richard Hightower and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. It’s been mentioned a time or two that Taysom Hill is a versatile weapon for the Saints. While he may not be an every-down player, Hill can impact the game on a single play and is someone Saleh and the defense must account for.

The former BYU Cougar’s production isn’t limited to the offensive side of the ball. Whether it’s blocking punts or returning kicks, New Orleans coaching staff has found multiple ways for Hill to be a difference-maker on special teams. Sunday projects to be a close game, so San Francisco can’t afford to give up points on special teams or a gadget play. Essentially, the Saints’ swiss army knife must be held in check.

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