Ask anyone, they will tell you the San Francisco 49ers have the best defense in the NFL. Ask anyone, Packer fans not included, they will tell you the New Orleans Saints have the best offense in the NFL. Something’s got to give as these two forces collide in the Divisional Round of the playoffs on Saturday.
Predicting the winner between the 49ers and Saints will be much harder than the Saints vs. Lions game. How you choose the winner has to do more with if you are an offense guy or a defense guy, if you are not a fan of either team. The offensive minded people will go with the Saints and their impressive vertical offense. The defensive minded people will go with the 49ers and their style of defense that pounds teams into mistakes.
Saints QB Drew Brees rarely has a bad game. This season he set NFL records with 468 completions, 5,476 passing yards and 71.2 completion percentage. His worst game statistically this season was the loss to the Buccaneers in week 6 which the Saints lost 31-21. Brees posted a 70.9 QB rating with 269 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. His lowest output in passing yards this season was 258, again against the Buccaneers, in week 9. The Saints won the game 27-16 with Brees’ stat line of completing 75% of his passes, two touchdowns, one interception and posting a 101.4 QB rating.
Brees only gets better in the playoffs and he showed that in Saturday’s win over the Lions. The Saints quarterback dismantled the Lions throwing for 466 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Saints were down 14-10 at halftime until Brees threw for 41, 3, and 56 yard touchdowns in the second-half. The Saints offense finished with an NFL postseason record of 626 yards and did not punt all game. Amazing.
The good news for the 49ers is we have the best defense in the NFL. The defense led by LB Patrick Willis has been itching all year to play a top-notch offense like the Saints. The 49ers defense will get their chance on Saturday to prove they can stop anyone, including Brees and the Saints offense. The 49ers would be capable of beating the Saints in New Orleans but with the game at Candlestick Park it gives them more of an advantage. The Saints don’t play as well away on the road, with a 5-3 record, than they do at home finishing with a 9-0 record including last Saturday’s win. Brees is slightly worse playing away from the Superdome. At home Brees had 29 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. Away he posted 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is best at getting his defense to pressure offenses into mistakes. The defense led the NFL with a plus-28 turnover differential and only gave up 14.3 points per game. The 49ers pressure teams into mistakes by getting to the quarterback fast with the D-line’s strength (Justin Smith) and explosiveness (Aldon Smith), forcing a bad throw or causing a sack. This will be easier said than done for the defense against the Saints. Fangio will need to find the very few weaknesses in Brees’ game and force him out of his game-plan by wearing down the Saints offense.
The 49ers defense is best at stopping running games. The Saints passing offense gets all the attention and rightfully so, but the running game could be an issue if they ignore it. And there is a good chance it can get overlooked with the Saints passing game the can beat you deep, on the outside, over the middle, with short passes and out of the backfield. Of the Saints six touchdowns scored against the Lions, half came on the ground. The Saints have three running backs (Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory) they can run at the 49ers, all capable of making big plays.
The 49ers D will be able to stop the running game forcing the Saints to go with the pass all game. Against most teams this would mean a win by taking away one of the ways an opponent’s offense moves the down field. Too bad the Saints are not your typical NFL team.
For What It’s Worth
Two of the Saints’ three losses on the road this season were against the Buccaneers and Rams. Teams the 49ers were 3-0 against and outscored 108-30 this season.
The Saints lost to the 7-9 Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs last season, a game on the road that was windy and wet.