Today, we're discussing the big picture, and which team is more likely to win the game. The folks at NN put together their offensive and defensive thoughts on why the 49ers would win, and I've got some thoughts on why the Saints will win. First up, Niners.
Niners Nation: Why the 49ers will win
The 49ers will win this game by controlling the clock through the run game. The Saints defense is improved, but the run defense still has question marks. Add in the injuries to the secondary, and that could potentially open the door for some success on the back end of rush attempts. The 49ers had success against the Panthers on the ground, but the team was limited in how frequently it ran the ball. Even in a 10-9 loss, they just seemed to not run as much as they could have given their earlier success.
The 49ers could attempt to hang with the Saints in a shootout, but the 49ers passing game is still trying to find its way. Colin Kaepernick has had plenty of solid, efficient games, but the passing game is struggling compared to last season. Even with a healthy Vernon Davis (going through NFL concussion protocol this week), I still think the ground game is the key to success. Whatever can keep Drew Brees and company off the field.
The 49ers will need to get some serious pressure on Drew Brees if they want to win this game. The pass rush was very solid against Cam Newton and the Panthers, and it will need to continue that. Aldon Smith played in only 12 snaps last Sunday, but likely will work his way into more snaps. Starter Dan Skuta had a solid game in his place, with rookie Corey Lemonier rotating in as well. Ahmad Brooks led the way with two sacks as he dominated against the right tackle. The 49ers need to build on that. Sacks would be great, but even just forcing Brees to throw quicker than he would like would be a big help. If the 49ers can successfully get consistent pressure, they can at least make the Saints offense manageable.
Canal Street Chronicles: Why the Saints will win
The New Orleans Saints will win with the passing game which has made them one of the most dominant teams in the NFL, ranking 2nd only to the Denver Broncos in scoring, passing yards and total offense. Marques Colston and Mark Ingram both rebounded from their injuries to great effect this past week, and further enhance an offensive squad that includes such weapons as Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, and Kenny Stills. If the improved run game can perform even half as well against the 49ers as they did against the Cowboys, and if the offense can keep Drew Brees from getting banged up, he should rack up completions with nine or ten receivers.
Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, has struggled on offense. San Francisco's passing woes are further amplified if Vernon Davis is unable to play: the Niners quarterback's rating drops from 81.7 to 13.1 when the tight end is not on the field. Regardless of their passing woes, San Francisco's rushing game will be a challenge for the Saints; and taking a majority of snaps under center could also minimize the impact of crowd noise. But without a viable passing attack, San Francisco shouldn't be able to keep up with the points New Orleans can put on the board.
By the numbers, these two teams are almost equal defensively. Over the course of the season, New Orleans has only allowed seven more cumulative yards than the Niners, and eight more total points... while racking up almost a thousand more yards and thirty-eight more points than San Francisco on offense. Although rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro may be out with a concussion, his replacement should be able to fill in adequately against a weak passing attack. And while the New Orleans defense is weaker against the run, San Francisco is weaker against the pass. They are both good teams with strong defenses, so the Niners shouldn't run away with the run game any more than the Saints should expect another perfect passer rating from Brees. But if San Francisco's standout rookie safety Eric Reid isn't cleared to play, they will have an even more difficult time covering the multi-faceted New Orleans receiving corps.
The 49'ers will certainly attack Drew Brees aggressively, and getting physical with the Saints is likely their best bet. However, a healthy Darren Sproles can make teams regret the decision to go after Brees too heavily. Brees having his reliable pressure release valve (#43) will be his key to staying upright against a physically bruising squad from San Francisco. So Harbaugh will likely try to use the running game to simply keep the ball out of Drew's hands... an understandable tactic often mentioned by opposing teams. But even if there were a direct causality from winning the Time of Possession battle: the Saints have the second-best ToP average in the NFL; so that tactic is unlikely to prevent a Saints win.
The impact of the Superdome crowd on a game cannot be underestimated; nor can the circumstances surrounding the Saints 21-31 loss to the 49ers last year be ignored. When these two teams met last November, the Saints (5-5) were in the midst of a tumultuous season rocked by Bountyfarce... playing musical chairs with assistant coaches in Sean Payton's role, not knowing which players would be suspended or available on any given week, and having been without a General Manager until earlier that same month. Add in the woes of the terrible Spagnuolo defense, and even the fans in the dome likely didn't have the same heart in the game. This year, the crowd will be pumped up, and hoping to return to the Saints' pre-2012 dominance of San Francisco (this millennium). Add Marques Colston's impending record, for which he only lacks 11 yards, and the crowd noise is sure to be rocking the dome.
Furthermore, the fact that the Saints held off on completing the Quiet Storm's record until this week is just another small example of Sean Payton's coaching brilliance... the sort of brilliance which made Sean Payton's absence a huge factor the last time the 49ers came to New Orleans. Sean Payton has not lost a game in the Superdome since the 23-13 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 17 of the 2010 season. So when the 49ers step onto his turf Sunday afternoon, it will have been 1,050 days since the last time he was defeated at home. He'll be looking to add at least another three weeks to that total; and the 2013 Saints should be able to make that happen... as long as they don't let either team's Week 10 performance cause them to underestimate yet another opponent.
The Saints just need to keep Brees upright, and keep the San Francisco rushing game within reason.
More from Canal Street Chronicles:
- Saints News, 11/13/13: Kenny Vaccaro Says He Spoke Too Soon About Not Playing Against 49ers
- NFL Power Rankings 2013: the New Orleans Saints are On Fire!
- Saints vs. Cowboys Film Breakdown: Mark Ingram Rolls
- Saints Victory Over The Cowboys Is Exactly What We Needed
- Canal Street Chronicles brings you Free Copies of the "NFL Rush Zone" DVD