The SF 49ers enter their Week 10 bout vs. the Saints as heavy underdogs, yet these matchups will be key for either team’s victory.
No, it doesn’t seem likely the undermanned SF 49ers will pull off the same kind of back-and-forth miracle from last year’s Week 14 bout during their seemingly annual trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to take on the New Orleans Saints.
The Niners are heavy nine-point underdogs this time around and will still be noticeably shorthanded when compared to their thrilling last-second win a season ago.
New Orleans, meanwhile, is coming off a 38-3 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9 and has now won five games in a row after starting off the year 1-2.
Sure seems like a tall order for the 4-5 Niners, losers of two straight embarrassing and lopsided contests, can pull off the upset. Not still without some of their best offensive playmakers, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle, who remain out with injuries.
Still, games are won or lost by matchups, and head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad better figure out how to exploit these five during Sunday’s contest.
No. 5: SF 49ers rush offense vs. Saints rush defense
The Saints will score points. No question there. And in order to make his offense truly work, Shanahan needs to establish the run and keep relying on it, particularly with No. 2 quarterback Nick Mullens not particularly equipped to get into a shootout with New Orleans’ signal-caller, Drew Brees.
One of the key problems, though, is the Saints run defense has been exceptionally good this year, averaging a mere 3.5 yards against per touch (third best in the NFL) and has allowed the second-fewest run yards this season (642). Football Outsiders also recognizes the Saints’ efforts here, slating them the No. 5 best run defense entering Week 10.
Interestingly enough, the SF 49ers are ranked sixth in that same category.
A problem, however, is New Orleans is getting top production from its top running back Alvin Kamara, while the Niners are still banged up at this position. Runners Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, both dealing with knee injuries, aren’t likely to suit up for the game, leaving depth tailbacks Jerick McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty to shoulder the bulk of the load on the ground.
McKinnon and Hasty are averaging 4.4 and 3.8 yards per carry this season, respectively.
If San Francisco gets the better end of this particular matchup and controls the clock via the run, it stands a chance.