Fresh off a bye week, the San Francisco 49ers (1-6) will look to contain the high-powered offense of the New Orleans Saints (3-4) on Sunday.
The Saints love to pass the football, and while they rank first in the league with 326.9 passing yards per game, their throw happy offense plays right into the strength of the 49ers.
The 49ers have struggled in all three major phases of the game this season, but something they have been respectable at is covering the pass.
San Francisco ranks seventh in pass defense, allowing only 222.4 yards per game in the air. The strength of the 49ers is certainly their secondary, which will be instrumental in orchestrating a possible win.
While the 49ers have been stout against the pass, their run defense has been embarrassing. They rank dead last in the league and give up 185.1 yards per game.
The last game they played against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they were gashed for 154 yards by Jacquizz Rodgers. No disrespect to Rodgers, but he’s the Buccaneers third-string running back and the 49ers defense made him look like an All-Pro by allowing him an insane 5.9 yards per attempt.
Fortunately for San Francisco, the Saints do not run the football very well. The Saints rank 25th in the league, with only 88.1 yards per game on the ground.
Their starting running back, Mark Ingram, has not been productive this season. He only has one rushing touchdown, and he was benched last week against the Seattle Seahawks for fumbling in the first quarter.
The Saints offense would be more balanced and effective if they could get any sort of production out of Ingram or their second-string running back Tim Hightower, but it hasn’t worked out this far.
Due to the Saints’ rushing woes, Drew Brees will probably be throwing the football for the majority of New Orleans offensive possessions.
It is no easy task to defend the 37-year-old Brees, who already has 2,366 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes this season.
The young 49ers secondary will have their hands full, especially with cornerback Rashard Robinson out with a knee injury, but they will receive a huge boost if they can get some help from the offense.
So far this season, the 49ers have scored on eight of their nine drives that lasted 10-or-more plays.
Controlling the time of possession and running the ball are going to be critical if the 49ers want any shot of winning.
Their pass defense has played well this year, but even so, if Brees gets a chance to throw the ball more than 35 times this game, he’s going to put up big numbers and the 49ers won’t be able to compete.
San Francisco’s offense isn’t talented enough to go toe-to-toe in a shootout. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his 46 percent completion rate have barely been an upgrade over the ineffective Blaine Gabbert, and the 49ers best offense player, running back Carlos Hyde, is questionable with a shoulder injury.
The only way San Francisco has a chance in this game is if they control the time of possession and limit the amount of times Drew Brees can throw the ball.
Due to injuries in the secondary, and the injury to Carlos Hyde, it doesn’t seem likely that the 49ers will be able to execute that game plan.
The Saints beat the 49ers in this one, 31-13. On the bright side, the 49ers run defense flashes some improvement and limits the Saints to 110 yards on the ground.