No. 4: Receivers not named Michael Thomas vs. 49ers cornerbacks
To be sure, Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is very likely the best player at his position in the NFL. Saints head coach Sean Payton knows this, as does his quarterback, which is why he’s already been targeted 130 times in 12 games. Thomas has caught 110 of those for 1,290 yards, with six drops and a Pro Football Focus catch percentage of 84.6.
Since he’s averaging just a hair over nine receptions per game for 107.5 yards, the likelihood is Thomas is going to “get his.” The job of the 49ers defensive backs will first be to neutralize Thomas as much as possible, then make sure they don’t let any of the rest of New Orleans’ receivers beat them instead.
That’s because, outside of Thomas, there aren’t exactly many good options at receiver for Brees to throw to.
The group is made up of second-year wideout Tre’Quan Smith, who has nine catches for 115 yards on 13 targets this season, former 49er (and Panther, Cardinal, and Dolphin) Ted Ginn Jr., who has 24 catches for 348 yards on 43 targets, seven of which he had in Week 1, rookie Deonte Harris, who has three catches for 10 yards and Krishawn Hogan, who has yet to be targeted this season.
Yes, the Saints have other pass catching threats that play other positions, like tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill, running back Alvin Kamara and even backup quarterback/Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill.
But their receiving group outside of Thomas is poor.
The 49ers cornerbacks, on the other hand, have all been excellent throughout the season, with all four of the regulars — Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Emmanuel Moseley, and K’Waun Williams — currently grading out as either above average or high quality players. All four are also among the top 20 cornerbacks in the league according to PFF.
Other players will be tasked with holding down the other options, but if the 49ers can keep Thomas in check and shutdown the other options, they should be able to control the Saints passing game.