The Saints defense played extremely well against the Minnesota Vikings to start the 2010 regular season, holding future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre to 171 yards and the usually-unstoppable Adrian Peterson to just 88 yards rushing.
While the offense didn’t enjoy its best day (posting only 14 points), it certainly missed its share of opportunities to run away with the game.
There were too many dropped passes from receivers who are usually more sure-handed and a couple of missed field goals that would’ve ordinarily amounted to nothing more than chip shots for our normally-dependable kicker, Garrett Hartley. It was a hard-fought game in which the Saints emerged victorious–thankfully. Now, they must turn around and do it all over again.
The San Francisco 49ers are coming off a humiliating loss against their division rival, Seattle and you can bet they are going to be fired up.
They found it difficult to run against the Seahawks and QB Alex Smith looked downright uncomfortable in the pocket, so the passing game was atrocious. But can we expect the same thing when the Saints march into town this Monday night for the primetime showdown in Candlestick Park? I say, hold the horses on that.
The Saints know that they’re going to have their hands full trying to shut down the 49ers workhorse, Frank Gore. But now, they’ll also have to contend with the break-out sensation, Anthony Dixon, who looked very impressive during the preseason.
Because the 49ers are typically a run first offense, I look for them to hit the Saints defense with their version of the one-two punch in an effort to wear them down, then mix things up with some check-down passes from Alex Smith to keep the chains moving. He will look for his dynamic second-year receiver, Michael Crabtree and his trusty tightend, Vernon Davis to try to stretch the field and pick up chunks of yardage down the field. Does any of this sound familiar?
While the 49ers and Vikings are totally different teams, their gameplans are very similar–run, run to wear the defense down then catch them off guard with a bomb down the field. Fortunately, the Saints cornerbacks are excellent in coverage, so Davis will see a lot of passes thrown his way (like Shiancoe did).
As for Smith to Crabtree, they were so out of sync against the Seahawks, it led to too many costly turnovers. I expect them to be more in tune with each other come Monday night though, but Greer and Porter will be ready. And you know Gregg Williams has something in store that no one is going to be expecting. Look for his guys to line up periodically in a 3-4 defensive front just to throw a bit of a wrinkle at Smith and his offensive line, something they had a lot of success with against Minnesota. It held the Vikings to only 2 first downs in the second half!
Also, expect to see the Saints defense continue to focus on stopping the run, which also means there will be fewer blitzes and more dropping back into coverage. Although the defense will not be as opportunistic, it doesn’t mean it will play with any less intensity. These guys are tough and they are very good at making adjustments. They may give up some yards in the beginning, but once they settle down and make their adjustments, they should be able to keep things in check.
The 49er defense, on the other hand, is the real deal. They have a very good 3-4 defensive front, which has been known to give the Saints’ offense some difficulty. But when you have a quarterback as capable as Drew Brees who can stretch the field or work the short-yardage passes to his advantage, scoring won’t be that big of an issue.
Look for Pierre Thomas to pick up decent yards behind the superior blocking of guards, Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, while Reggie Bush will split out wide, mostly as a decoy; don’t be surprised though if this turns out to be a breakout game for Bush. The Saints were a bit conservative in the season opener, but I expect Coach Payton to open up the playbook in this one and give Brees and company a chance to exploit the 49ers thin secondary (which should have problems matching up with the Saints’ three and four receiver sets).
And I bet you won’t see nearly as many dropped passes this go around because we all know what a stickler for perfection Coach Payton is; he simply won’t tolerate errors like that. Still and all, you know that if that 49er defensive front, led by ProBowl MLB Patrick Willis, has anything to say about it, it’s going to be another slug fest in which the Saints will have to fight and claw for every yard.
Let’s not take anything for granted here, Saints fans. The 49ers are still a very good team that only missed the playoffs last year by a game or two. Defensively, they are one of the tops in the league. Once they get clicking on offense, they are tough to defend. Our Saints need to be focused and they need to be ready. If they step onto that field in the right mindset, they will be tough to beat by any opponent. I predict a Saints win 38-24.