For New Orleans, there will be a few challenges. Can they establish the run as they have the last nine games? Will the slower playing surface impact the timing of receiver routes and ball delivery? Can the passing game survive if the run gets stuffed?
New Orleans has one of the better road records in the league over the last few years. They are also familiar with the field conditions at Candlestick Park having played the 49ers last season. However, the Saints have never won a road Playoff game.
49ers Keys to the Game
– Continued pressure up front
– Score, Score, Score
– Patrick Willis
The defensive line must pressure Brees if they have a chance to slow down the Saints. The field will help in that regard somewhat, but I doubt it will be enough.
Alex Smith must convert red zone trips into TDs. Field goals won’t be enough.
If the defensive line continues their excellent play, look for Patrick Willis to be Graham’s shadow over the middle. He will most likely be the first responder to a Sproles or Thomas screen pass as well. Look for his name to be called a lot during the game Saturday.
Saints Keys to the Game
– Ball control
– O-line protection
Brees can’t force anything on Saturday. He must allow his receivers time to separate from their man. Any errant throws similar to what he had in the Lions game, and the Saints will have multiple interceptions to go along with the two lost fumbles against the Lions.
Hold on to the damn ball!!! Whether bruising inside between the tackles or in the open field, the Saints must, must, must not turn the ball over. The 49ers are built to control the clock. With extra opportunities from turnovers, New Orleans will see a larger than normal dose of Frank Gore running down their throat.
Everything the Saints do well starts with the All-Pro talent along the offensive line. San Fran Coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t blitz opposing teams very often because his defensive line has the talent to get the job done on their own. The offensive line just needs another day at the office to allow plays to develop.
This outcome of this game will be determined by which strength overcomes the other: Saints offense vs 49ers defense. The field conditions will play a minor factor in slowing the Saints down, but if the 49er defense starts harassing Drew Brees, he could be in for rough afternoon. Couple that with the top notch rush defense of San Francisco, and I believe this game will come down to the final possession. San Francisco will keep the scoring under control, just not enough for the W.
Saints 30- 49ers 24