In the first of three straight games against division-leading NFC opponents for the Saints, this afternoon at 4:25 Eastern Time, they host the San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of the NFC playoff game that ended the Saints 2011 season.
The energy is sure to be at ridiculously high levels as the teams warm up in the Dome and the kickoff approaches, with both teams wanting to keep momentum going in the playoff race in which they find themselves. As an added incentive, the Saints will be looking to cleanse their collective palate of the bitter taste left by the heart-wrenching last-second January loss to San Francisco.
Swish your mouth with some purified water and then let's all imbibe some flaming Hot Reads...
** Let's use this thread as our pre-pre-pre-game hangout while we break down the Hot Reads, discuss our states of mind, and share our gameday gear and meal plans before the real game thread opens up. **
Here's where stopping the gold rush of those crusty prospectors takes on dual meaning: PROTECTING DREW BREES FROM THE PASS RUSH, and SLOWING THE NINERS' GROUND GAME.
First and foremost, the protection of Brees must reach ultra sunblock (I'm talking triple-digit) levels, as last time around, he was hit 11 times with 3 sacks. I imagine they'll be looking to get sackmaster LB Aldon Smith matched up with first-time starter, rookie RT Bryce Harris, who has made the jump from practice squader to starter in less than a month.
Secondly, the 49ers league-leading ground attack must be at least slowed some to put the game back into the hands of whichever quarterback ends up playing, career game-manager Alex Smith, or inexperienced up-and-comer Colin Kaepernick.
What I'd Like To See: Zero sacks and three or fewer hits on Brees, coupled with around 100 rushing yards for the 49ers.
Checkdown # 1
Thirteen of the 49ers' 36 points in January were the direct result of three takeaways deep in Saints territory that allowed San Francisco to start drives at the New Orleans 4, 13, and 26-yard lines. The message here is clear. HANG ON TO THE $%&*ING BALL! On the flip side, the Saints forced three fumbles in that game, but only corralled one of them, and it lead to ZERO points. Dang!
What I'd Like To See: The Saints win the turnover battle, and also score more points off takeaways than the 49ers.
Checkdown # 2
We've all seen the Saints defense get gashed for yards and points at a record pace this year. We've also seen them play better as of late, at times making some key stops to preserve victories. I know we all also remember this 2011 defense allowing 165 yards and two TDs in the final 4:02 of the playoff game, as if they had just left early, forgetting there was still a game going on. This time, PLEASE JUST MAKE A PLAY LATE, PLEASE!!!!
What I'd Like To See: Just stay in character, defense, and play as you have lately. Make some kind of play, any kind of play late in the game to help preserve the victory.
CRASH THE QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL For the Saints, there is no doubt who'll be stepping up under center, while for the Niners, there is much speculation and alleged misinformation being disseminated about whether Colin Kaepernick or Alex Smith will be the man. No matter who it is, though, they cannot allow the reversal of QB rating fortune that came to pass last time. Brees sported a stellar 110.6 rating for the year, but only put up a 93.5 rating in that game. Smith, on the other hand, outperformed his 2011 average (90.7) by nearly 13 points with a 103.2 rating in the game.
What I'd Like To See: Brees well over 100 with his rating, while Smithernick chalks up a rating of under 100.
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OK, timepiece, tick tock, tick tock. Let's get this clock moving quickly to game time - I'm ready!!