Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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49ers vs Saints: Five Keys to Victory and Score Prediction

Matt Andruscavage
Dec 7, 2019 at 1:25 PM


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Week 14 is finally here and it's time for one of the most anticipated matchups of the season as the San Francisco 49ers travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Both teams are 10-2 and are each trying to make their way up the NFC mountain and stake their flags at the top.

The 49ers are coming off a difficult stretch that began with a domination of the Packers, but resulted next in a 20-17 defeat in Baltimore to the Ravens. After Seattle's win over the Vikings on Sunday Night Football, San Francisco finds itself currently as the number five seed and would actually have to travel to Dallas to face the 6-7 Cowboys in the Wild Card round if the the postseason began today.

New Orleans last played on Thanksgiving Day and defeated the hapless Atlanta Falcons, but now has to face one of its most difficult tests of the season. Coming into the game, the Saints are not without some issues as they have some injuries at linebacker and most importantly, on the offensive line. Linebackers Kiko Alonso (thigh) and A.J. Klein (knee) are out, as is starting guard Andrus Peat (forearm). Starting left tackle Terron Armstead is questionable with an ankle sprain that caused him to miss last week's game. He has been limited in practice and even if he plays, he won't be at full strength against Nick Bosa.

The 49ers are finally getting healthy after dealing with several injuries since Week 2. Defensive End Dee Ford will return after missing the last two games with a hamstring issue and with him in the lineup, the pass rush just got much better against Drew Brees. Matt Breida also returns after missing a couple of games with an ankle injury. Richard Sherman will play after twisting his knee last week and Joe Staley may also return after finger surgery. The one piece of bad news is that Jaquiski Tartt will miss the game due to a broken rib. Marcel Harris will start in his place and for insurance, the 49ers re-signed Antone Exum.

When and Where: San Francisco at New Orleans - 1:00 pm EST - at Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Here are five keys to victory for the 49ers this week:

1) Get to Drew Brees


This game begins and ends with how the 49ers handle Drew Brees and the Saints' powerful offense. The pass rush needs to get in rhythm and must be in position to go after Brees on third and long. The Saints undoubtedly will try to get the ball out quick, establish a ground game and keep the defense off balance with Taysom Hill, but the 49ers have to cut through all of that and find a way to play this game on their terms.

If the pass rush can rattle Brees, it will be in position to get the defense off the field and perhaps force a turnover or two.

2) Expoit New Orleans' Linebackers in the Passing Game


With Kiko Alonso and A.J. Klein out, the 49ers have an opportunity to make New Orleans pay, especially in the passing game. George Kittle will be a matchup nightmare for the Saints and could also open things up for Kyle Juszczyk out of the backfield, screens to the running backs, and even reserve tight end Ross Dwelley.

The ground game should have greater success this week than it has collectively over the last few weeks, especially with Breida's return. If the Saints' linebackers are not up to the task, you can bet Kyle Shanahan will find a way to take advantage of it. George Kittle could be in line for a big day.

3) Control the Clock with the Ground Game


As stated above, the 49ers will have a big opportunity to run the football. Tevin Coleman has seen eight-man fronts almost half of the time he has carried the ball as of late and that has had an effect, but some of that was also during George Kittle's absence. San Francisco's offensive line is back in full force and this offense should be ready to get back to doing what it does best: control the clock, demoralize defenses with quality gains and long drives, and also allow Jimmy Garoppolo to operate out of play action, where he has been virtually unstoppable this season.

Coleman, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert should collectively be able to carve out some needed yardage against New Orleans' number three ranked run defense, especially with it being shorthanded at linebacker. A successful ground attack will go a long way in controlling the time of possession and taking some pressure off Garoppolo.

4) Protect Jimmy Garoppolo


This will always be a key to a 49ers victory, but against New Orleans and the NFL's leader in sacks, Cameron Jordan, it will be vital to give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo time to make some plays. If the ground game does its job, things will go much smoother for the passing attack, but if not, Garoppolo still has the tools to extend drives, set up the run (if need be), and put up points.

The Saints rank 16th against the pass and give up about 100 yards per game more than the 49ers do (234.9). With their defense giving up over 100 yards per game on the ground in the last four weeks, San Francisco will have a lot of opportunities to work out of play action, rack up yardage, run the clock, and get points on the board, but it all starts up front. The offensive line cannot afford to allow the Saints' defensive line to get in the backfield and wreak havoc.

5) Frustrate the Defense and Quiet the Crowd


The Superdome is a difficult place to play due to how loud it gets in there. The Saints have fed off its energy during the entire Drew Brees era and it's no joke. To combat the noise, getting positive gains and the running the clock will do the job. It will be important to win frequently on first and second down as well as to create third and short when having to run a play on third down.

Lastly, don't underestimate how many 49ers fans will be there. That place will be looking pretty red on Sunday and if the 49ers are winning in the second half, it may feel like a home game like it has several times this year, according to the players.

Prediction


New Orleans is short-handed and it will be a factor. Drew Brees and the offense will have some early success, but the defense will get things figured out in the second half and will limit the Saints the rest of the way. The ground game will look like its old self and we will see big plays from Kittle, Sanders, Samuel, and a couple of big screen plays from Juszczyk and Breida. The defense will force a late turnover and the offense will run the clock out.

49ers 27, Saints 20
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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