The San Francisco 49ers travel to New Orleans this week to play the red-hot Saints. Can the 49ers pull off the upset and, for a third year in a row, beat Drew Brees and company?
It will take top-notch game planning and execution. The 49ers’ coaching staff, of course, has the propensity to game plan as well as any in the league. The players, though extremely talented—save wide receiver—and usually good at executing the game plan nevertheless are prone to committing stupid penalties. This cannot happen. If you have been anywhere near NFL news this week, you probably have seen that the Saints got 40 first downs last week. That is unheard of. The 49ers defense cannot give free first downs to that offense. They also need to reign in the big play and not miss tackles. These are little things that, in general, the defense has done well with all season. Some plays have gotten away from them, however, and this cannot happen Sunday. A few turnovers could go a long way, too, as they have in the previous two matchups.
On Colin Kaepernick’s side of the ball, clock control is a must. Not only does this require actually gaining yards and collecting first downs, it also means plays cannot go in the reverse direction—be it from penalties or sacks. Turnovers also must be prevented. If the 49ers turn it over more than twice, they don’t stand a chance.
If Mario Manningham, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis all take the field, and if they all play at least somewhat decently, Kaepernick could finally have a passing day that would be appreciated. That, however, is not as important as pounding the ball with Frank Gore and using Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James as changes of pace. If the 49ers can pound the ball early they can run the clock, control the ball, and allow themselves to continue running throughout the game. If the 49ers get down early, then Gore may be relegated to pass blocking.
Finally, the 49ers offense must get in the end zone. If one of the field goals Phil Dawson made last week had instead been a touchdown, the 49ers would be in a completely different playoff position right now. As it stands, the 49ers can still do great things. They just can’t get in the way of themselves.