After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Saints-Niners matchup.
1. The Saints need to score early: San Francisco has shown that it is not a team that plays well from behind. In a perfect world, the 49ers want to run the ball, show balance and stay in manageable third-down situations. Drew Brees can take them out of their game plan by spreading the field with multiple-receiver sets, scoring early and forcing the 49ers to abandon the run game.
2. New Orleans needs to play sound football: Some people are alarmed that this offense only scored 14 points against Minnesota, but after you break down the film you see that they were fundamentally solid. The Saints showed good overall blocking, good tackling, ball security and a run game to close out the contest. They have better personnel than San Francisco and they will try to pass first, build a quick lead and then run out the clock. If they don't make silly mistakes, they should control this game.
3. The Saints' pass defense must shore up the deep middle of the field: In Week 1, the usually "blitz-happy" Saints crossed up the Vikings by playing a lot of base Cover Two schemes. It was a good game plan, but they were vulnerable down the seams and the LB's and safeties struggled to close ground in the middle of the field. The 49ers have an excellent TE, Vernon Davis, who will attack that deep middle and New Orleans must tighten up inside and give the LBs some help in coverage or bump him at the line of scrimmage.
4. The Saints' passing game is explosive: While they only put up 14 points against Minnesota, the Saints were close to making that game a blowout if they had better timing in the passing game. Brees hit nine different receivers and he showed great vision, the ability to read his progressions and utilize the check down. He also showed excellent movement and ball handling on play action, bootlegs, and waggles. The 49ers do not have enough coverage guys on the back end to matchup with man schemes.
5. What defense will New Orleans play? It was Cover 2 against Brett Favre, but it will be tempting in this game to go back to that blitzing and attack style. 49ers QB Alex Smith is a rhythm QB and if you change up the defensive looks you can confuse him. Look for some exotic pressures with bump and run coverage outside to frustrate the SF receivers, and when they go to the cover two, Smith will struggle to find good throwing windows. In that defense the Saints must adjust to Davis down the seam, since right now he looks like their best playmaker.
6. Have we dramatically overrated the 49ers? Smith did not look ready to play in Week One, Michael Crabtree dropped passes and ran wrong routes, they were a paltry 1-15 on third down conversions and the defense made the Seattle offense look better than they really are. This is Mike Singletary's team and yet they looked out-coached versus the Seahawks, they made training camp type mistakes and there was no sense of urgency. These mistakes don't bode well with New Orleans coming to town.
7. Communication must be better on the sidelines for 49ers: Smith was frustrated in Week 1 about how slowly the plays came in from the coaches. Don't blame it on headset problems -- the 49ers need to cut down on the flow of information and that could mean that coordinator Jimmy Raye will come out of the box and on to the field to get those signals to his QB directly. San Francisco can't afford to be confused on offense when facing an aggressive (and changing) defense like New Orleans.
8. San Francisco must be better than 1-15 on third-downs: Smith never seemed to be on the same page as his receivers, with the exception of Davis, and this passing game was never in sync. Smith had to start throwing the ball too often on first and second downs and that lack of success led to a lot of third and long situations, which allowed the Seattle defense to tee off on the QB.
9. The 49ers must play it straight on defense: They don't want to blitz a lot and they will try to beat New Orleans with a physical effort from their front seven. The secondary may play combo coverages and mix things up, but they cannot get away playing man to man against Brees because they do not have enough guys to matchup against the Saints' spread offense, and Brees will destroy man coverages by identifying the matchups quickly. If the San Francisco front seven doesn't have a huge day, the 49ers are in big trouble.
10. Matchup to watch: San Francisco TE Vernon Davis vs. New Orleans FS Malcom Jenkins: Davis is the only explosive player that we saw for the 49ers against the Seahawks. He can stretch the field and attack the seams. Jenkins is replacing Darren Sharper (injury) and while his physical skills are good, his instincts and reactions will be a key. MLB Jonathan Vilma will try to run with Davis down the middle, but that's not a good matchup for the Saints and that will require Jenkins to close ground in the deep middle, stay at home and take away the seam.
New Orleans 24
San Francisco 13