Saturday, January 7, 2012
Quick Take: Saints at 49ers
By Pat Yasinskas
Three things to know about next Saturday’s New Orleans Saints-San Francisco 49ers divisional playoff game:
1. On a roll: The Saints have not lost since Oct. 30 when they inexplicably dropped a game to St. Louis. Although that loss was a big reason why the Saints now have to go on the road, it brought about some positives. The Saints made some major adjustments in their pass protection to give tackles Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief help. Since then, the offense has been unstoppable. Everyone talks about the passing game and that’s understandable. But the running game has been almost as impressive with Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory sharing the carries. People like to label the Saints a “dome’’ team, but that’s not necessarily true. With this running game, the Saints can also play outdoors and still be able to move the ball if the weather is an obstacle.
2. A different breed: New Orleans’ offense has had a record-setting year. But look back at the opponents. The Saints have yet to face a defense as good as San Francisco’s. Coach Sean Payton will have to be more creative than ever. San Francisco linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are playing as well as any duo in the game right now. Defenses generally have no idea how to match up with New Orleans tight end and Jimmy Graham and Sproles. But the 49ers might have the personnel to do that.
3. Some help from the defense: The offense has carried the Saints throughout the regular season and there was nothing wrong with that because no defense could slow the Saints. But the 49ers have the potential to keep the Saints under some sort of control. That means Drew Brees and the offense could benefit from some help from the defense. Back in the 2009 championship season, the Saints were opportunistic on defense. They produced turnovers in bunches. This year’s defense hasn’t done much of that. But producing a turnover or two -- or at least generating a little bit of a pass rush -- could be a big help in a road playoff game.