The San Francisco 49ers’ (6-3) next opponents, the New Orleans Saints (7-2), are unbeaten at the Superdome this season. To beat the Saints on their home turf, the 49ers will have to defend against an offense that gained 625 yards against the Dallas Cowboys last week. That scary Saints’ offense, ranked 2nd in the NFL overall, is joined by a stiff defense, ranked 7th in the league overall. The 49ers bring a stiff defense as well but also a sputtering offense along with injuries to many of their key players. The Saints will be very tough for the 49ers to beat.
The Saints’ offense, averaging 422.7 yards per game, contains multiple threats. Quarterback Drew Brees is second in the league in passing with 3,064 yards and 25 touchdowns. Those statistics make Colin Kaepernick’s, 1,675 passing yards and 9 touchdowns, look puny in comparison. Saints’ tight end Jimmy Graham is ranked 7th in the league in receiving with 54 catches for 805 yards and 10 touchdowns. Marques Colston, who has battled knee and foot injuries this season, can still be dangerous, catching 7 passes for 107 yards and 1 touchdown against the Cowboys. Running back Pierre Thomas leads the team in rushing with 96 carries for 364 yards and 1 touchdown. He also has 46 catches for 314 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 49ers also should not forget about dynamic Darren Sproles on offense and on punt and kick returns. Sproles had seven catches for 76 yards and one touchdown versus the Cowboys.
Traditionally known as an offensive powerhouse, it is no surprise the Saints have so many dominant players on offense. However, this season the Saints are no slouch on defense either. The team is ranked 3rd in the league in passing defense with 199.9 yards allowed per game. Overall, the Saints are 7th in the league in defense, allowing 317.6 yards per game. Linebacker Curtis Lofton, the team’s leading tackler, has 71 combined tackles and 1 sack. Safety Kenny Vaccaro, the team’s second leading tackler with 45, sustained a concussion against the Cowboys and is not expected to play against the 49ers. Defensive end Cameron Jordan leads the team with 6 sacks; linebacker Junior Galette has 5 sacks. Linebacker David Hawthorne has 47 tackles and 3 sacks. Cornerback Keenan Lewis leads the team with 3 interceptions.
For the 49ers to effectively compete against the Saints’ powerful offense and stingy defense, the 49ers must have their best players available. Unfortunately, many of the team’s most valuable players are on the injury list this week. Tight end Vernon Davis, one of Kaepernick’s favorite targets, suffered his second concussion in less than a year against the Panthers. Davis must pass concussion protocols before being cleared to play again but says he’s feeling good. With Davis out of the game against the Panthers, the 49ers’ offense greatly faltered. Another injured offensive player, Garrett Celek, is day-to-day with a hamstring injury. The 49ers may need to add a tight end or promote Derek Carrier from the practice squad in order to account for both Davis and Celek’s injuries.
Rookie safety Eric Reid, who suffered his second concussion in two months, is a bigger concern for the 49ers. This young player has 3 interceptions on the season and has already proven his tremendous value to the team. If Reid cannot play, C.J. Spillman may get the start. Another key defensive player, linebacker Dan Skuta, filling in for Aldon Smith, is also injured. Skuta, who had probably his best game of the season against the Panthers, suffered a foot injury but still finished the game. Since then, Skuta has been seen with an orthopedic boot on his foot but his status is unknown. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald, still recovering from a biceps injury suffered earlier in the season, left the Panthers game with an ankle injury. He reportedly has a high ankle sprain and is wearing a walking boot. If he cannot play, Tony Jerod-Eddie may start for him.
The last time the 49ers faced the Saints, November 2012 at the Superdome, the 49ers won 31-21 in Kaepernick’s second game as a starter. The outcome could be much different now since the 49ers are banged up and struggling offensively, with the lone bright spot being Frank Gore at running back. Gore helped beat the Saints last year, gaining 83 yards on the ground. Perhaps he can repeat that performance this year. The way the Saints are playing though, that may not be enough.
Sara DeBord is an NFL writer for www.footballandfutbol.com and www.baysportsreport.com.