Tale Of The Tape: San Francisco 49ers At New Orleans Saints
- QuarterbackAfter taking the NFL by storm a year ago with his overwhelming athletic ability and fine passing ability, the 2013 season has been a much more challenging year for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Opposing defenses have done a better job of limiting his ability to run with the ball and his passing game has been limited.The Saints have returned to form after a difficult 2012 season and quarterback Drew Brees has been the architect of that comeback. Brees has pinpoint accuracy and the courage to stand in the pocket, wait until the last second, take the hit and throw another completion. Brees has completed 68.0 percent of his passes this season and has a 25-7 TD-interception ratio.
- OffenseThe 49ers have the ability to control the game on the ground thanks to the relentless running style of Frank Gore. While he will run over tacklers, he can also get to the outside and surprise tacklers with his ability to make long plays. Anquan Boldin has become the 49ers’ best receiver. He is tough and talented. Tight end Vernon Davis (concussion) can stretch the field if he can return to action.The Saints rely on their outstanding offensive line to protect Brees and that unit almost always does a solid job. The running game has been ordinary this year and the Saints expect more from Pierre Thomas than he has delivered. Tight end Jimmy Graham is the best player at his position when healthy. Darren Sproles is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the game.
- DefenseThe 49ers have a big, nasty defense that is not going to allow the Saints to make any yardage without paying a price. Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman leads the sixth-ranked defense in the league with 76 tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks has become the team’s leading sacker with 6.5. FS Eric Reid has nine passes defended and three interceptions.The Saints have one of the most improved defenses in the league this year as the players have responded very well to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The aggressive Saints rank seventh in overall defense and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton has a team-high 71 tackles. Defensive end Cameron Jordan has the speed to come off the edge and has 6.0 sacks.
- Special TeamsThe 49ers have had a solid year covering punts and kickoffs. Jim Harbaugh believes that Kyle Williams is capable of busting a long return. Former Cleveland Browns placekicker Phil Dawson has made 12-of-15 FG attempts while Andy Lee is averaging 48.6 yards per punt.The Saints have not given up any long returns this year and they know that Sproles has the quickness to give them good field position any time he can get a running start before catching the ball. Garrett Hartley has not had his best year, making 16-of-22 FG attempts.
This could be a very tough game for the 49ers because they don’t have the firepower to match what the Saints can do on offense. If Brees gets off to a fast start, Harbaugh’s team could lose by double-digits. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor