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The San Francisco 49ers loss last Sunday to the St Louis Rams has put them in a nearly do or die situation. The 49ers are currently in the eighth spot in the NFC playoff picture, not the best place to be in when travelling to take on the New Orleans Saints in the Mercedes Superdome. The 49ers defeated New Orleans in 2012 when Sean Payton was serving a yearlong suspension in the wake of the "Bountygate" scandal. The last time the 49ers were able to win in New Orleans with their head coach on the sidelines was a 38-0 victory on January 6, 2002.
With that as a backdrop here are 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.
1) Will Rombaugh be able to silence the critics? - Following a loss to the Rams which saw the 49ers offense shut out in the first half there have been calls from every corner for the head of Greg Roman, and some for Jim Harbaugh.
Something to keep and eye on Sunday: Through the first half of the season the 49ers offense has averaged 3.75 yards per run and 5.08 yards per pass on first down, the lowest they have been during the Rombaugh era.
A year ago the 49ers found themselves in a very similar situation, coming off a bad loss to Carolina at home and having to travel to take on the Saints. As a result they came out with a plan of trying to take the air out of the ball and force the Saints to stop their running game. As a result they ran the ball on 16 of their 25 first down plays. They averaged .9 yards per run.
They didn't just try running though. They called nine passes on first down. Colin Kaepernick was 3-8 for 9 yards, and a sack.
2) Are the Saints invincible in the dome? - The Saints come into Sunday's contest having not lost a home game with Sean Payton on the sideline since Jan 2, 2011. That's 19 straight.
3) Who will replace Demarcus Dobbs on the 46-man roster? - The release of Dobbs earlier this week opens a spot on the active 46-man roster for this week. In his weekly press conference, Jim Harbaugh mentioned that Chase Thomas could be a candidate to fill that vacancy. Thomas would serve as the backup to Aaron Lynch at outside linebacker if Dan Skuta is unable to go along with taking Dobbs' spot on special teams.
Another option could be Tank Carradine. Justin Smith has struggled of late, registering only five quarterback pressures over the last four games.
4) Can Colin Kaepernick make the necessary plays? - Kaepernick is coming off a game against St Louis which saw him miss a wide open Michael Crabtree for a game-winning touchdown in the closing minutes, and it won't get any easier for him on Sunday.
Kaepernick had a rough outing a season ago against the Saints, missing open receivers and playing almost the same way he played a week ago. If the 49ers are able to keep the game close can they count on Kaepernik to make the play?
5) How will the 49ers defense hold up against Drew Brees? - Brees comes into the game on a hot streak, having averaged more than 315 yards passing over the last three weeks. The last time the 49ers defense faced a quarterback this hot they gave up 42 points.
49ers 20 Saints 30