With big NFC playoff implications oozing all around the New Orleans Saints–San Francisco 49ers Sunday matchup, the Saints will be looking to come away with a victory to hold on to their divisional lead and keep their postseason hopes alive. New Orleans currently has the second-best record in the NFC at 7-2, behind the 9-1 Seattle Seahawks, and the two have an upcoming Monday night contest in early December.
That game could very well help determine the postseason seeding.
Until that time, however, the Saints must continue to do what they do best and focus on the game at hand. This week, they must focus on the 49ers.
New Orleans’ recent history with San Francisco has not ended well for the Saints. There was the heartbreaking 36-32 2011 divisional round playoff loss in San Francisco and the home loss last season in the Superdome while Sean Payton was serving his suspension for Bounty Gate. You can be sure that Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have been looking forward to this opportunity to even the score a bit, and the odds are favoring the Saints this year.
Payton’s return and the hiring of Ryan have brought stability, consistency and a little bit of swagger back to the defense. This is great because the Saints will need it to stop the 49ers’ prolific offense. Although they may not be as explosive and dangerous as they were last year during their Super Bowl run, San Francisco is still a dangerous team.
Third-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick has had a bit of a drop-off from his 2012 outing, completing just just 124 out of 220 passes for 1,675 yards and nine touchdowns. This is probably related to injuries that receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham have. Crabtree recently returned to practice after injuring his Achilles Tendon in May, and Manningham recently returned after suffering torn knee ligaments last December.
Tight end Vernon Davis has been left to shoulder the load along with offseason acquisition Anquan Boldin, but Davis has been dealing with injuries this season as well. That has left Boldin as the only receiving option at times, helping opposing defenses.
This means that the Saints must find a way to stop the 49ers’ running back Frank Gore, who has been very explosive and dominant this season. He has rushed for 700 yards through nine games with seven touchdowns. With Manningham and Davis listed as questionable for the Sunday game, the 49ers will lean on Gore to help carry the team.
The Saints have allowed 1,059 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this season, and have shown problems from time to time in stopping the run. New Orleans does not need a top-10 performance on Sunday to come away victorious, just an average one. Nobody is expecting another repeat performance from last Sunday when New Orleans held the Dallas Cowboys to just nine first downs and 193 total yards.
This game, however, will certainly be another test for Ryan and the youth movement on defense.