It’s Week 9, and we’re back again with the Interview with the Enemy series. This week, David Fucillo of Niners Nation answers 5 quick questions about the upcoming matchup between the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers:
Now that Colin Kaepernick is back as the starting QB in San Francisco, are the 49ers more of a running team or passing team? Has the QB change affected the offensive scheme of the 49ers at all?
The 49ers are mostly a mess of a team right now. I think they are attempting to be more of a running team, but falling behind in games does not help matters. They lost Carlos Hyde to a shoulder injury in Week 6, so it is no surprise we saw a decent amount more passing than running in Week 7. The 49ers had a bye, and Hyde is limited, but will hopefully be back. If Hyde is out there, I think Chip Kelly wants to build from the run. People look at his offense and think it is going to be hurrying and passing, but when Kelly's offense is rolling, the run is critical.
The biggest change with Kaepernick in the lineup is on the ground. Blaine Gabbert is plenty athletic in his own right, but Kaepernick brings something extra. He is more dangerous running the zone read, and he appears to have greater strength in getting away from potential sacks. It forces teams to consider more zone defense because man-to-man down the field opens up running lanes.
Do you feel like Kaepernick's decision to protest the national anthem been more of a distraction to the team or more of a moment for the players to bond and stick up for each other? Maybe a little bit of both?
It's hard to say exactly because we just don't know what is really going on in the locker room. The comments out of the locker room have been incredibly positive. Some players admitted being put off initially, but credited an early players-only session where Kaepernick spoke and answered questions. I think players get a little tired of the topic, but I think the bigger distraction is that they're not a good team. It would be a more interesting question if this was a team with big expectations.
One thing I will note is there has really not been any anonymous comments from within the 49ers complaining about the protest. When things are going south, normally somebody is happy to complain to a reporter. But we really haven't heard that, which could speak to it uniting them a bit more.
Who is an offensive playmaker for the 49ers that will make an impact in this game?
If Carlos Hyde plays, he will be that playmaker. Hyde is limited, wearing a non-contact jersey in practice because of a shoulder injury suffered in Week 6. He has been the best player on offense by a longshot, and he would be critical to any win. Kaepernick will be the guy to watch because of the potential for big players, and it is very likely if the 49ers win this game, Kap will have made some big plays with his legs and through the air. But I really think Hyde will be the guy to watch if he plays.
What defensive player is set to give Drew Brees and the Saints offensive the most trouble this week?
I'll go with defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. The 49ers defense has been a train wreck against the run, which has left teams not throwing nearly as much. But if the Saints decide to step away from just handing the ball to Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower, watch out for the 49ers "Twin Towers." The 49ers spent a first round pick on Armstead in 2015, and then a first round pick on Buckner in 2016. They played together at Oregon, and are absolutely enormous. They are the two guys who have shown the most in getting after the quarterback. They are inconsistent against the run, but give them a chance in the passing game, and they can make things happen.
Predictions for the game? Final score?
I have a hunch the 49ers spring an upset with something along the lines of 23-20. Part of it is figuring they blow their shot at the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. But part of it is that bad teams can show some signs of life at home. They blew a 14-0 lead two weeks ago against Tampa Bay, scored first against Arizona and Dallas in their previous two home games, and thumped Los Angeles in Week 1. They're not a good team, but they do some decent things at home for stretches. The entire free world thinks the Saints win and cover the field goal spread, and I think it sets up for an upset.
Thank-you, Joel, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Joel and the work his guys are doing over at Niners Nation. You can follow them on Twitter @NinersNation and you can follow David on Twitter @SportsLawTalk.