In what may be the most highly anticipated and competitive matchup so far in the playoffs, the irresistible force (the New Orleans Saints) goes up against the immovable object (the San Francisco 49ers).
Drew Brees, who now owns the record for most passing yards in a season, has people talking MVP. But how many guys on the San Francisco defense could be potential candidates for defensive player of the year?
Patrick Willis. Justin Smith. NaVorro Bowman. Aldon Smith. A fearsome group, “four” sure.
The biggest battle will obviously be Brees versus the 49er defense. While they do have an intense pass rush and frightening linebackers, their secondary is not as amazing. They have allowed the 16th most passing yards to opposing quarterbacks this season. That’s average, right in the middle of the league. While it is notable to say that this San Francisco defense has defeated the likes of Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, and Michael Vick this year, Brees is a completely different player.
Brees throws the ball with accuracy that is not comparable. He makes long throws, short throws, and throws that no one else can make. I see Brees getting the best of this 49er defense on Saturday, even though the game is on the road, which I’ll discuss more later on.
The reason why many think that the 49ers can stop Brees is because they have the best rushing defense in the league. The three-headed monster of Christopher Ivory, Darren Sproles, and Pierre Thomas has no doubt helped Brees have this magical season. The question is, can he continue his torrid pace if San Francisco shuts down the running game?
On the other side of the ball, things are a little bit cloudier. The Saints have struggled mightily against the pass this year, which is an area that Alex Smith must take advantage of. If San Francisco wants to win, they’ll need Smith to truly shed his label as a bust and make some plays.
Another interesting factor is that the Saints have been a defense that feeds off turnovers. This is the philosophy preached by defense coordinator Greg Williams. Smith is a quarterback who has thrown only five interceptions this year. We all know Smith’s history, but if he can play turnover free like he’s played all year and still throw the ball well, that will be a huge edge for San Francisco.
The 49ers’ offense is built on their run game. They are 8th in the league in rushing and will need Frank Gore to really have one of his better games. Gore has struggled down the stretch, as he hasn’t had a 100-yard game since November 6th against the Redskins. Kendall Hunter will surely help out the rushing attack, but I just don’t know if they can get the kind of ground game they’ll need to control the clock.
The fact that this is a home game for San Francisco makes it more even matchup. Brees and the Saints have thrived at home, where they have not lost this year. However, I just can’t see that being much of a factor on Brees. Sure, he would do better if this game was at the Superdome, but I can’t see a quarterback of his caliber dropping off that much because he isn’t in a dome. Brees did win five road games this year.
Wrapping it all up, Brees figures to have his usual good day of 300 plus passing yards and multiple touchdowns. Having a physical tight end like Jimmy Graham as well as vertical receivers who can stretch the field like Marques Colston and Devery Henderson will make sure he doesn’t miss a beat. However, San Francisco will make it extremely difficult to run the ball, slowing down the offense at times. For the 49ers, the defense will surely help out the offense, but I just can’t see the running game doing enough to win this game. Smith will probably have at least one interception but I expect him to have an otherwise solid day. The 49ers are a very scary team, but in the passing league that we have today, expect Brees and the Saints to be just a bit better.
Saints 30, 49ers 23