It has been one pressure-ccoker of a week leading up to today, and I'm quite ready for this game to get started.
As usual, I brighten your gameday morning with another tasty edition of HansDat's Hot Reads (trust me, it's better than a 4x4 with a fried egg and bacon on it, but not quite as good as a Luther Burger).
Come on across the jump and we'll get right to it!
Wait, waitaminute, wait wait...before we jump, here's the rest of your CSC Divisional Saturday run-up to the game coverage (all times EST):
11:00 am - Preston's Preview
2:00 pm - Gameday Fleur-De-Links (with pump you up music and videos!!! Here we come to get you...)
3:30 pm - Saints/Niners Game Open Thread
** And, let's use this comment area as our pre-pre-pre-game open thread for discussion of our current vibe, Saints gear and food plans, and how we're going to hold our s*** together until kickoff - GAAAAAAA!!!! **
This week, with the ferocious 49er defense chomping at the bit to get to him and shut down the Saints record-breaking aerial attack, it is paramount that they PROTECT DREW BREES.
This will be a tough task, as the Niners have a couple of hard-hitting linebackers (NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis) who can disrupt routes, tackle, and cover backs and receivers. They didn't allow a rushing touchdown this season until Christmas Eve, and led the league in rushing defense this year (yielding 77.2 yards per game). And I haven't even mentioned their sack leaders: the electrifying rookie Aldon Smith (14), uber-strong Justin Smith (7.5), and awe-inspiring OLB Ahmad Brooks (7).
What I'd Like To See: Protection schemes that are executed well and work against this powerful defense, giving up a couple of sacks at most. Brees will need to help this out by getting rid of the ball quickly, moving effectively in the pocket, and making smart decisions under pressure, as he won't have as much time as he usually does to survey the field.
CHECKDOWN # 1
The next most important factor in this game will be BALL SECURITY. The Saints carried a -3 turnover ratio in their three losses, and a +6 in their 14 wins. They cannot afford to lose possessions and give the 49ers a short field to work with to get points. And then when you stack that -3 overall ratio up next to the 49ers +28 ratio, your bowels clinch.
What I'd Like To See: A bowel-unclinching turnover-free game is what I'd most like to see, and if that can't happen, at least keeping the ratio to -1 or better will be required FTW.
CHECKDOWN # 2
During the game, things might get hairy, and they might get scary, but no matter what happens, the Saints must RUN WITH ABANDON, AND DON'T ABANDON THE RUN.
Against this 49er defense it may be rough going (hell, look back a few paragraphs - they only give up 77 yards per game on the ground, for cripes' sake!), but the Saints have to stay two-dimensional to keep them off-balance and to open up the passing game a bit for Brees and Krewe. Plus, the Saints are 13-0 when they rush for over 100 yards (1-3 when held under 100).
What I'd Like To See: Just enough attempts and yards to keep the 49er defense honest and from being able to key on the pass too much - 25 carries for 100 yards would be a good start (although I'd take less carries if they were gaining 5+ yards per attempt), just as long as they eclipse that century mark on the ground.
The Niners have two decent offensive weapons, RB Frank Gore (1211 yards, 8 TD) and TE Vernon Davis (792 yards, 6 TD). It'll be really tough to win if they both have big days, so let's have them just HOLSTER ONE OF THESE WEAPONS.
What I'd Like To See: Keep Gore under 75 yards and out of the end zone, OR deny Davis a score and don't let him get more than 50 receiving yards.
BONUS HOT READ
Make them TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME. With a 49er offense that struggles to gain yards at times working against a Saints defense that gives up lots of yards, doesn't easily get takeaways, and sometimes gets a crucial third down stop, field position could make or break this game.
The 49ers must be consistently given a long road to the end zone to allow more opportunities to get a third down stop or takeaway.
What I'd Like To See: Kickoffs for touchbacks or short returns only, and deep, booming punts that are mostly unreturnable, as the 49ers average starting field position is their 25-yard line. It would also help to not have any giveaways that gift them with a short field.
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That's it folks. In my humble HansDat opinion, those are the five things the Saints must do to win and move on to the NFC Championship game for the third time in six seasons. It's quite a tall order to beat the 49ers in their house, so what do YOU think it'll take?