Gameday! The Saints can get back to .500 if they beat the 1-6 49ers today. At 0-3 earlier in the season we were all down in the dumps and never could have seen this opportunity coming. In fact, I still can’t believe they won the Chargers game as the team easily could’ve been 0-4. What a tremendous opportunity. The Saints are going to have a hard time catching the Falcons based on this run they’re on, but they’re only one game out of the wild card. A win here puts them right back in the playoff mix at 4-4. But they have to take care of business and beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. The Saints have been their own worst enemy when they lose this year – and it’s been more about self inflicted wounds than anything the other team is doing a lot of times. The Saints can easily lose this game by beating themselves because let’s be honest, when they’re at their worst the opponent almost doesn’t matter. When they’re at their best? They can beat anybody in the NFL. If the Saints play a clean and solid game – they won’t lose to the 49ers. Here is five things I’m looking for:
1. Help on defense
Delvin Breaux, Sheldon Rankings and Sterling Moore all have a chance to play. We won’t know until 90 minutes before game time which of the three are playing, but there’s a chance we’ll get to see all three on the field (or maybe two). I’m especially excited to see Rankins on the field and I have zero doubt that Breaux and Moore will help the secondary a tremendous amount. This unit desperately needs an infusion of talent and you know it’ll be a welcomed addition for Dennis Allen. I’m hoping the lineup boost will give the Saints a huge lift going up against the 32nd offense in the NFL. Dare I say they might actually look good?
2. Running back rotation and effectiveness running
Tim Hightower earned the right to start by becoming the first Saint 100 yard rusher in a game this season. I’m interested to see if he does indeed start and how much he sees the football. And what will that mean for Mark Ingram? Will he get some reps too? Or does he continue to sit on the bench after ball security issues the last two weeks? I think the Saints will go by committee and play both. This will be a big opportunity for both Hightower and Ingram to pad some stats. The 49ers are dead last in the NFL giving up 185.1 yards per game on the ground, dead last giving up 5.1 yards per carry, and dead last giving up 31.3 points per game. Yes, that’s correct, they give up more points per game than the Saints defense. What’s most shocking about that tidbit is the 49ers shut out the Rams 28-0 in week 1. Since then they’re on a 6 game losing streak giving up individual point totals of 46, 37, 24, 33, 45 and 34. Yikes. If Hightower is able to run on the Seahawks, the Saints should be able to do the same against the 49ers and take advantage of a really bad defense.
3. Beware the quarterback runs
The Saints haven’t really faced a running quarterback yet. I say this because Russell Wilson was so injured he couldn’t really move and Cam Newton was just coming back from a concussion and didn’t want to take extra hits to the head. Then they’ve played Rivers, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan – definitely not runners – as well as Alex Smith and Derek Carr – decent runners from time to time but passers primarily. They haven’t played a QB that is a significant running threat like Colin Kaepernick. If there’s one way the 49ers offense can hurt the Saints, it’s with Kaepernick running the ball. Kaepernick leads the NFL in yards per carry with at least 15 attempts at 8.8. As bad as the 49er offense is, and as poorly as Kaepernick has thrown the ball, he can create with his legs. The Saints have to find a way to limit the impact there and it’s a significant concern.
4. Does Stephone Anthony play at all?
James Laurinaitis and Dannell Ellerbe are both listed as “out”, injured with thigh problems. It looks like Craig Robertson and Nate Stupar will get the lion’s share of action at linebacker again, with Michael Mauti coming in on occasion. The only other “healthy” linebacker on the roster is Anthony. He’s been listed as “questionable” with a hamstring issue that caused him to miss the last couple of games but he’s been practicing this week. Since the Saints are shorthanded with Laurinaitis and Ellerbe out, they’ll need Anthony active. He’ll basically serve as the primary backup to all three positions and if anything happens where Stupar/Mauti/Robertson need to leave the game – Anthony would have to be counted on. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets on the field at all. Given the lack of bodies, he just might, and if he does I’ll be looking for him to bounce back and show us something… anything.
5. Blocking Ahmad Brooks
Who doesn’t remember the time Brooks almost decapitated Drew Brees? Brooks has 2.5 sacks on the year and he still represents a threat on the edge. In case you don’t remember the play:
Just block the guy, Mr. Strief. We need Brees healthy.