Jim Harbaugh has been away from Stanford for almost 3 full seasons, yet his fingerprints are still all over the Cardinal football team. Watching a Cardinal game on any given Saturday is like watching the 49ers play in different uniforms. The plays, the personnel groups, the philosophy is the same. I bring this up as the 49ers prepare to take on the New Orleans Saints this Sunday because the game Stanford played on November 7 against Oregon should serve as a learning tool for how the 49ers should approach this game.
There are few teams that are more different in their offensive approach than Stanford and Oregon, one grinds it out on every snap with extra linemen and bruising running backs while the other tries to spread out the defense and play at light speed. One can draw those same similarities between the 49ers and Saints and just like the week leading up to that game on The Farm, very few experts give the 49ers a shot to win on Sunday.
With that as the backdrop, let's take a look at 3 things the 49ers should take away from how Stanford approached that game.
1) Dictate tempo - The 49ers need to keep the ball away from Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense as much as possible. Fortunately, their biggest offensive strength happens to be the biggest weakness of the Saints defense. The 49ers rushing offense comes into the game 4th in the NFL with an average of just under 148 yards per game, while the Saints are tied with Kansas City for the worst average yards per rush against at 5.0.
If the 49ers can get back to what they did over their 5 game winning streak when they ran the ball on 65% of their plays and move the sticks, their offense could become their best defense. All signs point to them being able to make this happen. Over their 5 game win streak, the 49ers were able to average over a half yard more per carry than the average given up by their opponent. If that holds true on Sunday, the 49ers will be able to average 5.5 yards per carry.
2) Keep up the pressure - Against the 49ers last season, Drew Brees put up his worst QBR total of his career at 26.2. A big reason for that lack of success was the pressure put on him throughout the day by a 49ers front 7 that sacked him 5 times an registered 18 total pressures on the day.
The 49ers defense appears poised to make Brees have a long day once again. Last week against a much more mobile quarterback in Cam Newton, the defense was able to put pressure on 47% of his drop backs.
Another performance like that could go a long way in slowing down the Saints high powered passing attack.
3) Play a full 60 minutes - As the 49ers found out firsthand during their playoff matchup with New Orleans after the 2011 season, no lead is safe against their quick strike offense. To defeat the Saints in the Superdome, San Francisco must do something that they have done only once all season and that is play at the top of their game for a full 60 minutes.
This is the type of game that the 49ers have proven in the past that they can win. If they can do the 3 things listed above an upset might just happen.
Jack Hammer is a writer for NinerChatter http://ninerchatter.blogspot.com