On Sunday, Dec. 8, the San Francisco 49ers will take on the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This matchup has big playoff implications as both teams come into this game with a 10-2 record. The Saints enter this weekend as a 2.5-point favorite, but the 49ers may have something to say about that.
Say hello to your 2019 NFC South Champions, the New Orleans Saints. In Week 13, the Saints took down the Atlanta Falcons on Thanksgiving night and clinched a playoff birth. The Saints seemed to be in control of the game until the Falcons came roaring back with nine straight points due to two consecutive onside kick conversions.
Taysom Hill was the Saints’ offensive and special teams star in Week 13. He lived up to his ‘Swiss Army Knife’ role as he rushed for a score, caught a touchdown pass, and gave the Saints fantastic field position with a blocked punt.
Drew Brees had a quiet night in Atlanta, posting 184 passing yards and a touchdown. It is notable that he didn’t throw an interception and was not sacked at all. This is a huge improvement from the last time the Saints faced the Falcons when Brees was sacked six times. The offensive line stepped up in this one and protected their veteran leader.
The Saints’ run game was quiet once again, other than Hill’s 30-yard scamper to the end zone. They finished with 18 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown. The Saints have struggled to get much on the ground in the last few weeks, something that needs to improve vastly before their game against the 49ers.
One thing that the Saints have not struggled with recently is getting the ball in the hands of Michael Thomas and Jared Cook. Thomas had a quiet game, by his standards, with six catches for 48 yards, while Cook caught three passes for 85 yards. Thomas has lived up to his Twitter handle (@Cantguardmike) as he looks nearly unguardable at times. He leads the league in receptions (110) and yards (1,290) by a wide margin and is looking to continue this trend against the 49ers.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cameron Jordan was unstoppable, racking up four sacks, including a game-sealing sack on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. The Saints’ defense had a total of nine sacks on the night, proving to be a huge problem for Atlanta’s offensive line all night.
Two Saints rookies came up big in Week 13. Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle may have had the play of the game last week, intercepting a pass from Matt Ryan and proceeding to take him down with a very disrespectful stiff-arm. Safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson grabbed his first career interception and continues to play at a high level every week.
Keys to Victory
Run the ball
For the Saints to win this game, they must control the tempo of the game. This means that they need to figure out their running game. With a backfield combination of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, this should not be a problem. The Saints are quick to abandon the run, but they cannot afford to do so in this game. Feed the rock to Kamara and Murray and let them make plays and grind the clock.
Second receiving option
Talks of the Saints not having a true WR2 have not seemed to affect the passing game thus far. Michael Thomas is having one of the best seasons by a wide receiver in recent memory. But against a fantastic secondary like the 49ers, Brees might need to find a second target. After a slow start, the emergence of Jared Cook has helped greatly. Whether it is Cook, Tre’Quan Smith, or even Taysom Hill, the Saints must spread the ball around, as Thomas may draw multiple defenders for most of the game.
Successful special teams
Wil Lutz has been fantastic this season for the Saints, coming up clutch on multiple occasions. He is 27-for-31 on the season and has not missed a kick since Week 8. Continuing this hot streak will be key, as the Saints have struggled to put the ball in the end zone many a time.
In Week 13, the 49ers were taken down by the Baltimore Ravens in a hard-fought game that came down to the last second. This loss, combined with a Saints and Seahawks win, dropped them down to the fifth seed in the NFC for now.
In the passing game, Jimmy Garoppolo was efficient, going 15-for-21 for 165 yards and a touchdown. He managed the game very well but lost a fumble in the first quarter.
The big story in this game was the 49ers’ running game. Everyone knows that this is one of the team’s biggest strengths as they have three backs that are capable of handling a full workload. In this one, Raheem Mostert was the bell cow, carrying the ball a career-high 19 times for a career-high 146 yards and a score. On the day, the 49ers collectively carried the ball 29 times for 174 yards. Continuing this high-level ground attack will be key for a win over the Saints in Week 14.
The defense for the 49ers has been incredible this year. They managed to take the ball away from the Ravens, recovering a Lamar Jackson fumble. Jackson’s mobility was a huge issue for the 49ers as he ran for 101 yards and a score. The defensive line of the 49ers has been terrorizing opposing offenses throughout the entire season, but only managed one sack (from DeForest Buckner) against escape artist Jackson.
The secondary held Jackson in check, allowing only 105 passing yards with a 60.8 percent completion rate, although they did not come away with an interception.
The defense will face a quarterback who is the complete opposite of Jackson in Week 14 as Drew Brees is not a mobile quarterback. This could help the defensive line rack up a few more sacks if they can get to Brees quick enough.
Keys to Victory
Grind the clock
As with the Saints, a big key to this game will be to have a successful running attack to grind the clock, limiting the Saints’ offensive possessions. With Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert, the 49ers have a plethora of weapons in the backfield to get this done.
Take away Michael Thomas
The 49ers must do what seemingly no other team has managed to do this season: stop Michael Thomas. Behind Thomas, the Saints are lacking at receiver. Stopping, or even limiting, him and forcing Brees to find other options could go a long way in getting a much-needed victory.
Get to the quarterback
The 49ers struggled to find a way to take down Lamar Jackson in Week 13. Giving Drew Brees all day in the pocket would not be wise if the 49ers want to pull out a victory.
This game will have a playoff-like atmosphere in New Orleans. As he did in Seattle, I expect Alvin Kamara to break out of his slump and carry the team on his back. Drew Brees has played in many big games in his career, so he should be able to make enough plays to get it done. This game will come down to the wire and be in Wil Lutz’s hands. In the Superdome, I’ll give the edge to New Orleans to win and keep the top seed in the NFC.
San Francisco 49ers 24, New Orleans Saints 27
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Location: New Orleans, La.
Time: 1:00 p.m. EST