Tre: The first thing I'd say is to come out firing and try to get the 49ers behind in scoring. They want to slow things down, run the ball, and control the clock. I know, the Saints are known for high-flying, quick-scoring offense, but the 49ers defense always plays-up in games like these, and in reality, the defense has played lights-out most of this season, even in defeats.
Which leads us to the offense...
Playing man coverage and making Colin Kaepernick take his time in the passing game has been the achilles heel thus-far. The O-Line looked confused last week, perhaps due to the layoff, but a few timely blitzes had free-shots at Kap. Stopping the run isn't necessary, just keep it from really gashing you. As long as you're up in the score, the 49ers will abandon the run, predictably in the 2nd half. I'm being half smart-ass, half truther here...
Wallace: Are the Niners' offensive struggles primarily due to Colin Kaepernick or are they due to the lack of weapons around him?
Tre: In a word: Both. The guys he's looking to be open aren't always, well, open. Kap isn't comfortable surveying the field at this stage, at least not like Drew Brees is. Part of the reason is that his weapons aren't very good at defeating tight coverage. Anquan Boldin is a really good receiver, but he is what he is: a possession receiver who's best sitting down in zones. Vernon Davis has missed time in a few games this year and the 49ers offense fell-off accordingly. He's really their only deep-threat.
Bottom line is that Greg Roman can call better plays, shorter passes and tempo throws, as well as using more of what Kap does well as opposed to expecting him to make the jump to pure pocket-passer, despite not having great talent on the outside.
Wallace: In the past two meetings between the Saints and 49ers, the Niners have been the far more physical team. Is the Niner defense still as physical and daunting today as they've been the prior two seasons?
Tre: Absolutely. The only real loss was Dashon Goldson, and Eric Reid has stepped in and not only been physical (perhaps too physical as evidenced by two concussions), but he's not been noticeably beaten deep in the passing game. Up front you have a vicious group that includes Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Ahmad Brooks, to go along with notorious tough-guy Justin Smith and surprise standout at NT: Glenn Dorsey.
The corners are the least physical of the bunch, but they're all willing to tackle and generally don't miss many.
Wallace: Which player needs to be most productive for the Niners to exploit the Saints' weaknesses?
Tre: Vernon Davis needs to be healthy and active, first and foremost. He makes the defense guess because he's a solid blocker as well as mismatch in the passing game. Without him the Niners are much more predictable: if a TE is on the field, it's either a run, or if it's a pass, you don't have to cover him closely.
Frank Gore needs to continue with his solid season and wear down the Saints' defense while eating clock. Again, the 49ers need to salt this one away, not try to get into a scoring match with Brees and Co.
Kaepernick doesn't have to wow, just make some plays that are there to be made and limit mistakes. Funny, but it's almost the Alex Smith philosophy: Play sound football and everything else is gravy. He HAS stepped-up in big games, of course most of that was last season...
Wallace: Ultimately how far can the Niners go this season with their current lack of balance on offense? Yes, I appreciate the irony, this, coming from the Saints perspective.
Tre: Getting Michael Crabtree back will be huge. Even though he's not a burner, he got open against everyone last year, man coverage, zone coverage, whatever. Kap recognized that and looked to Crab on the outside when he was in a jam, as well as finding Davis down the middle or in deep zones when available. I think if you give Kap two weapons on every play, more often than not he'll make a play.
The defense is playing as well as they have, minus the gaudy turnover and sack numbers, but their points-allowed has been spectacular. The offense needs to help them out by not giving up on the run, even in the second half when they are in a close game or trail by a reasonable margin. If they can find their identity, part of which is getting guys healthy and back, it sets up for a late run at the post-season at the right time.
Thanks for your time Tre, and good luck against... Seattle.
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- 49ers vs. Saints 2013: Why each team will win
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