Raise your hand if you thought the San Francisco 49ers would be a .500 team through eight games this year.
Odds are not many people could see the team would be struggling like this, even with the amount of injuries they’ve had. The defense has played very well overall despite missing some of the league’s best players for some or all of the year, but the offense has been a disaster.
Despite adding numerous weapons this offseason, the unit continues to struggle to put up points and has only found the end zone 16 times. The offensive line has dealt with numerous injuries and looks to be a shell of itself.
Despite the issues, there’s no more margin for error as the Niners travel to New Orleans to take on the high-powered Saints in Week 10. San Francisco is in desperate need of a win and will need to put points on the board to get one.
When Ahmad Brooks was flagged on what looked like a clean (albeit violent) hit on Drew Brees in the 49ers 23-20 loss last season, it may have changed history. Brees fumbled the ball after being sacked, and it was recovered by San Francisco. If the play had stood, it’s likely the Niners would have had home field advantage throughout the playoffs and may have been able to get back to the Super Bowl.
Alas, it didn’t happen that way and the loss will go down in the books. Despite the close score, the 49ers were miserable offensively and only managed 196 total yards. The only reason they were able to put up two touchdowns is because the defense forced turnovers to give them a short field.
Players to watch
Joe Staley, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Alex Boone. These four offensive line stalwarts have been a big reason for the success of the team over the past few years but haven’t looked like themselves in 2014. The unit has given up 27 sacks this season, which is the third-most in the NFL and the highest number for any team who has only played eight games. They will now have the challenge of not only picking up their game, but also helping break in rookie center Marcus Martin.
While Drew Brees and the passing game gets most of the attention for the Saints (and rightfully so), the emergence of running back Mark Ingram can’t go unnoticed. With Pierre Thomas injured, New Orleans has committed to Ingram as their feature back, and the fourth-year pro has dominated over the past two weeks. In back-to-back victories, Ingram has carried the ball 54 times for 272 yards and three scores. His emergence adds another dimension to the Saints offense that the 49ers have to account for.
Game changing factor
While they can be hit or miss away from the Superdome, The Saints are a juggernaut at home. They’ve won their last 11 home games and averaged just under 34 points in those wins.
Stats to know
In a season in which he’s played 14 games or more, Frank Gore has never rushed for less than 1,000 yards. At the halfway mark in 2014, he’s on pace for 944. He’s also on pace to carry the ball 232 times, which would be his lowest total in the Jim Harbaugh era. What’s curious about that is that the 49ers are a better team when Gore gets the ball. In the two games he’s had 18 or more carries, he gained over 100 yards in both and averaged 5.38 yards per rush. In the other six, he’s averaged only 12 carries a game and 3.3 yards per attempt.
The Saints are starting to hit their stride and the 49ers are barely treading water. It could be a season-changing victory if San Francisco can go into New Orleans and knock them off, but they won’t be able to accomplish that unless they score more points. With the Niners looking out of sorts, they will fall below .500 at the latest point in any season under Jim Harbaugh.
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