SF 49ers will have problems defending Saints WR Michael Thomas

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

The SF 49ers have had issues defending top-tier wide receivers this season, and the Saints’ Michael Thomas is the next in line for Week 10.

The SF 49ers can’t feel too good about having to make their seemingly annual pilgrimage to Mercedes-Benz Superdome to play the red-hot New Orleans Saints, who just throttled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-3 in Week 9.

And the Niners especially can’t feel good about having to defend wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Thomas has been something of an anomaly for New Orleans this season, missing each of the team’s contests between Weeks 1 and 9 for a myriad of injury and conduct reasons. Yet there’s little denying his on-field impact, which returned to stride against the Bucs with Thomas’ five receptions for 51 yards.

Even worse, San Francisco can’t soon forget Thomas’ 2019 first-team All-Pro efforts, which resulted in a league-high 149 receptions for 1,725 yards. Eleven of those receptions and 134 yards came against the SF 49ers back in that Week 14 back-and-forth thriller the Niners eventually won.

The prospects for a San Francisco victory in Week 10 seem slight, especially considering all the injuries head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. have had to deal with.

And those injuries are going to hinder the 49ers’ efforts containing Thomas.

Why Michael Thomas is such a threat to the SF 49ers

True, former Niners wideout Emmanuel Sanders has taken away some of the would-be touches Thomas otherwise would have had, particularly with his own 30-catch, 342-yard, three-touchdown season so far, the bulk of which has come in Thomas’ absence.

Still, San Francisco has had more than its fair share of trouble with other teams’ top wide receivers. Case in point, in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals, perennial Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins recorded a career-best 14 receptions for 151 yards.

Then in Week 8 against the Seattle Seahawks, wide receiver D.K. Metcalf torched the SF 49ers secondary to the tune of 12 catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

The only time this season when the Niners were able to contain a top-flight offense’s wide receivers was in Week 6 against the Los Angeles Rams, who mustered a mere 198 pass yards.

It’s hard to fathom Thomas and the Saints being limited to that low a number.

San Francisco could be a bit healthier in its secondary by the time Sunday’s game rolls around. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman‘s practice window has been reopened, as he’s been sidelined since Week 1 with a calf injury. Producing a tandem of Sherman and fellow starting cornerback Jason Verrett was what Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh envisioned to handle top-end wideouts this season.

Even though Hopkins’ outing back in Week 1 suggested the problem won’t exactly go away based on personnel alone.

A lack of pass-rushing pressure from the Niners this season, thanks to key injuries to edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, has meant extended coverage times from members of the secondary. And while San Francisco can still feel OK with a top-10 pass defense nine weeks into the season, a player like Thomas still poses a massive problem for Saleh’s side of the ball.

The wide receiver figures to be a major threat.

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The SF 49ers and Saints kick off on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 4:25 p.m. ET.