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New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers: What to Watch

I suppose it's time to make that transition from putting last weeks game behind us to looking forward at the Saints next challenge, that being the San Francisco 49ers. For some reason I still can't believe we're watching real football...again. Even though I witnessed the league-opening game with my own eyes last Thursday night, it still hasn't really hit me. And this year is even weirder, what with the Super Bowl championship to defend and all.

So what can we expect to see on Monday night when the Saints and Niners kick off? Make the jump and find out. And don't forget to add your own or talk about mine in the comment section.

Avoiding the Trap

The 49ers, though talented, appear to be in a state of disarray and while the Saints are the better team, it would be foolish for them to get too cocky. They should whole-heartedly expect a fired-up San Francisco team looking to get back on track by making a statement at home and on national television against the reigning Super Bowl champions. An inexperienced team might get caught by surprise; an experienced team will be prepared for everything.

Shake, Rattle and Win

Last week Gregg Williams and the Saints pass rush went easy on Brett Favre, much to the surprise of many. This week they're facing an unproven quarterback and an offense with communication problems so what better time to unleash the fury and all but guarantee that offense to be ineffective? If the Saints can really rattle Alex Smith, mistakes will assuredly follow and the Niners will be left one-dimensional with Frank Gore.

Pass the Night Away

The weakest aspect of the Niners defense is their secondary, which means Brees and company match up quite nicely. Expect Sean Payton to use the early part of the game as a chance to scout San Fran's defense and check how they handle certain looks; then exploit what he sees and take advantage of the matchups he likes. I'm penciling Drew in for a big night this week.

Keeping Drew Clean

In order for Drew to work his aforementioned magic, he needs to feel safe and warm inside that pocket, like a baby in the womb, with no worry of the big bad men trying to rip his head off. And for that to happen, the offensive line, tight ends and running backs all need to bring their 'A' game. San Francisco has a good defense, particularly it's front seven. Most importantly, linebacker Patrick Willis needs to always be accounted for when he's out on that field.

Players to Watch

Reggie Bush - The (former?) Heisman Trophy winner has already been playing at a higher level more consistently than we're accustomed but following the most recent fallout from the USC sanctions - Bush's forfeiture of his Heisman Trophy - and the media firestorm it has created, I fully expect Reggie to play like a man on fire. Lock your doors, kids.

Garrett Hartley - All eyes will be on the 'fat, punk kicker' during any and all field goal attempts Monday night. Last week's two misses might not mean time to panic but another performance like that this week certainly might. Hartley needs a big game to restore some confidence in himself and with fans.

Malcolm Jenkins - He's got at least another five games as the starting free safety for the Saints defense and if he wants to keep that spot even after Darren Sharper's return, he needs to really prove himself in that time. Jenkins showed flashes of brilliance last week, in particular the near interception he almost made while running halfway across the field. I would really make me feel better to see a good game from Jenkins this week.