The stage is set for an NFC-changing Week 14 matchup for the New Orleans Saints.
We’re halfway through the regular season and the New Orleans Saints (10-2) find themselves in familiar territory once again with the No. 1 seed and control of their own destiny.
It’s early December in New Orleans and all around the city you can hear the sounds of “Choppa Style” (Saints theme music) and feel the vibe in the crisp cool air.
The New Orleans Saints, already having locked up the NFC South division, are right back in the mix with the No. 1 seed in the NFC heading into a formidable NFC west opponent. This time it isn’t the pisky Los Angeles Rams; it’s the new and improved San Francisco 49ers (10-2).
The San Francisco 49ers are coming into Sunday’s match-up against the New Orleans Saints trying to bounce back after a rainy “ground and pound” loss to the electrifying Lamar Jackson-led Baltimore Ravens.
In that match up, we saw both teams have great success on the ground.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert carried the ball 19 times for 146 yards and one touchdown, averaging 7.7 yards per carry while quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was 15-21 for 165 and a touchdown pass.
Baltimore Ravens MVP front runner, Lamar Jackson, led his team in rushing with 16 carries for 101 and a touchdown and also went 14-23 for 101 and passing touchdown.
This brings me to my keys to victory Sunday for the New Orleans Saints to maintain the No .1 seed in the NFC.
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First things first, I believe the New Orleans Saints should make a considerable commitment to establishing the run right out the gate to slow down San Francisco’s high caliber defensive ends Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead.
The first thing that stands out is that this San Francisco 49ers team can be run on and they are susceptible to the pass as was demonstrated by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who handed the 49ers their first. As a unit, they produced 142 yards rushing on the ground in their first matchup this season.
Establishing the run game will be key early in this match up to not only keep the 49ers defensive ends honest but to assure that New Orleans Saints future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees will have time in the pocket to assess his reads and make completions.
In this game, it is imperative that Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray both shoulder the load with at least 10 carries apiece. “Mr. Everything” Taysom Hill should also be given his opportunities produce on the ground to keep the 49ers off balance defensively.
A key match up to watch will be 6-foot-3 205-pound wide receiver Michael Thomas and 6-foot-3 205-pound 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman who’s coming in hobbled after spraining his knee Sunday in Baltimore.
San Francisco 49ers All-pro Richard Sherman, a key member of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” during their glory days, will have his hands full with All-pro Saints receiver Michael Thomas who leads the NFL in receiving yards and catches with 110 receptions for 1290 yards and six touchdowns.
Offensive line play for the New Orleans Saints versus San Francisco 49ers’ league-best defensive line will be key to watch as well. 49ers Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead have combined 18 sacks on the season.
The New Orleans Saints are coming into Sunday’s game missing Pro Bowl tackle Terron Armstead (questionable) and Pro Bowl guard Andrus Peat (Out).
New Orleans Saints veteran guard Nick Easton and veteran tackle Patrick Omameh have filled In nicely for the injured pair and looked to be primed and ready for the task of handling the No .1 ranked defense in the NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers are leaders in both total defense with 250.9 yards per game and pass defense with 134.2 yards per game. Defensively, for the New Orleans Saints, they have to continue to be stout in their run defense.
The Saints defensive front anchored by superstar defensive ends Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport has not given up 100 yards to a rusher in 41 consecutive games. That stat line would need to hold true versus the San Francisco 49ers who are currently No. 2 in the NFL, averaging 148 yards on the ground.
If the Saints can produce the same kind of pressure and generate half the sacks they did against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, we should be solid up front. The Saints secondary will have to be a compliment to the front end.
A couple of key match up to watch will be cornerback Marshawn Lattimore manned up against wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and cornerback Eli Apple against rookie wide receiver speedster Deebo Samuel.
It will also be interesting to see how they play 49ers tight end George Kittle who leads the team with 54 receptions for 687 yards and three touchdowns.
Last but most importantly, the Saints have to stop shooting themselves in the foot and clean up these drive-killing or extending penalties.
The penalties the Saints have conjured over the past four weeks have been horrendous.
It seems that every ten yards they gain, they give twenty back, and against great teams like the 49ers, you can find yourself in the loss column real fast stalling drives with costly penalties.