NFL Nation: Saints-49ers Divisional 2011

Final Word: Saints vs. 49ers

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:30
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Saints-49ers divisional game:

[+] EnlargeBrees
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireNew Orleans QB Drew Brees has recorded 18 TDs and two interceptions in playoff games.
Cracking the code on Brees: The 49ers led the NFL in turnover differential at plus-28 this season. They tied for second in interceptions with 23. Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown have combined for 16. But in Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the 49ers are facing the all-time record holder for consecutive postseason passes without a pick. Brees' streak is at 215 pass attempts and counting. This stat, provided by the NFL, seemed improbable. The Saints lost to Seattle in the wild-card round a year ago, after all. But the numbers are even better than the 215-attempt streak would indicate. Brees has 13 TD passes without an interception in his past five playoff games. He has 18 TDs with two INTs in eight career playoff games. Brees last threw a postseason pick during a Jan. 21, 2007 defeat at Chicago. Detroit missed a couple chances in the wild-card round.

About the contrasts in style: The Saints' 626-yard total against the Lions last week exceeded by 41 yards the 49ers' combined yardage totals for their games against Dallas (206), Seattle in Week 1 (209) and Baltimore (170). Fortunately for the 49ers, the Saints will not have the Dallas, Seattle or Baltimore defenses on their side. The Saints allowed 18 touchdowns in 18 red zone possessions against Green Bay, Chicago, Carolina (Week 5), Tampa Bay (Week 6), Indianapolis, St. Louis and Detroit (wild-card round). Those shortcomings proved critical in defeats to the Packers, Bucs and Rams. The 49ers' red zone touchdown percentage bottomed out during a six-game stretch with only three TDs in 18 such possessions. The 49ers need to build on recent improvement in that area by featuring Vernon Davis and their ground game.

If it comes down to a kicker: We've broken down this matchup from the major angles. Special teams are another consideration. The 49ers have dominated in that area most of the time. Their kicker, David Akers, made the most of the team's red zone issues, setting a league record for field goals in a season. The 49ers battled high-scoring teams to close finishes. If it happens again, the kickers could prove decisive. We know about Akers. He was sensational amid trying circumstances. The Saints' kicker, John Kasay, has been around, too. He broke into the league with Seattle in 1991. Kasay has made a higher percentage outdoors (14 of 16) than indoors (14 of 18) this season. Those numbers correlate with Kasay's totals on grass (13 of 15) and turf (15 of 19). Kasay has made a higher percentage when the Saints were trailing (7 of 7) than when they were leading (17 of 21). He has made 4 of 6 kicks in fourth quarters, and both misses were from 50-plus yards. Kasay, 42, has made 1 of 4 tries on the road from 50-plus yards. He has attempted two kicks from 40-49 yards in tie games, missing both.

Final Word: Saints at 49ers

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:30
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday’s Saints-49ers playoff game:

[+] EnlargeChris Ivory
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Saints run the ball nearly 75 percent of the time when RB Chris Ivory is on the field.
The great outdoors: There has been a lot of talk about how New Orleans’ offense is built for a dome and doesn’t play as well outdoors. But some numbers dispute that. According to ESPN Stats & Information, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees completed 61.9 percent of his throws of 21 yards or more down field during the regular season when playing outdoors. In indoor games, Brees completed only 50 percent of his passes of 21 yards or more.

Tipping their hand: The New Orleans offense can do damage with just about any of its skill-position players. But, in one way, the Saints are predictable. Although the Saints use running backs Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory in a rotation, their roles are pretty well defined. When Sproles is on the field, the Saints have passed on 70.3 percent of their offensive plays. When Thomas has been in the game, the Saints have thrown 68.9 percent of the time. When Ivory has been on the field, the Saints have run 73.4 percent of the time.

Easy on the blitz: New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams always has been a very aggressive coach. The Saints blitz more often than any team in the NFL. Including the playoff victory against Detroit, the Saints have sent five or more pass-rushers on 51.3 percent of opponent’s dropbacks this season. That’s the highest percentage in the league. Williams’ goal is to force opposing quarterbacks to make mistakes. But Williams may want to re-think his philosophy when facing San Francisco’s Alex Smith, who has excelled when facing the blitz this season. When facing five or more pass-rushers, Smith threw 10 touchdowns and just one interception.

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