49ers Week 11 primer: Must win situation in New Orleans?

The San Francisco 49ers have not had many must win games during the regular season in the Jim Harbaugh era. While finishing the last two seasons a combined 24-7-1, the Niners were always in control of their destiny on the way to two straight NFC West titles. Now, in Week 11 of 2013, the team finds itself two and a half games behind the first place Seattle Seahawks and in danger of falling back into the pack in the wild card race. They face a New Orleans Saints team on the road that is very difficult to deal with in their building. Can the 49ers bounce back and win a critical game?

Recent History

In 2012, the 49ers were in the middle of a quarterback controversy as Colin Kaepernick was coming off of a lights out performance in his first NFL start against the Chicago Bears. Alex Smith was still recovering from a concussion and Harbaugh decided to stick with Kaepernick when the team traveled to New Orleans in Week 12. The game solidified Kapernick as the 49ers’ starter moving forward as he helped lead the team to a 31-21 win. Kaepernick played well, throwing for 231 yards and adding two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing). The defense provided a huge lift as Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner both returned interceptions for touchdowns. The Saints were not the same team they are now, however, mostly due to the fact that their head coach, Sean Payton, was suspended for the season for his role in Bounty Gate.

Players to watch

Anytime you go head to head with the Saints, especially in their building, you have to be able to put up points. While the 49ers will no doubt try and control the clock via the running game, Kaepernick also needs to make plays. The second year starter has taken some criticism this week after a sub par performance against the Carolin Panthers in Week 10. Kaepernick had one of the worst statistical games of his career, only throwing for 91 yards and failed to lead his team to an offensive touchdown for the second time this year. He will need to bounce back in a big way for the 49ers to win in the Superdome.

On the other sidelines will be Drew Brees, who doesn’t have any trouble moving the ball through the air. Brees is on his way to his third straight season with 5,000 yards passing and 40 plus touchdown passes. He has a multitude of weapons to choose from, as the Saints currently have four different players with over 400 yards receiving.

If San Francisco is to slow down New Orleans high powered attack, they will need big games from their pass rushers. If the 49ers can’t get pressure on Brees, there is no way the secondary will be able to keep up with all of the weapons the Saints have. Keep on eye on how many snaps  Aldon Smith sees. He only played 11 snaps in Week 10 and should see a larger role in this game.

Game changing factor

The Saints are a different team in their building.

New Orleans is yet to lose in five game at home and are averaging 35 points per game. On the road, their offensive production drops immensely as they are only averaging 22 points per contest and have a .500 record (2-2). Brees is also  much more prolific at home, throwing 18 touchdown passes to only two interceptions. On the road, his touchdown to interception ratio is 7-to-5. Unfortunately for the 49ers, this game is in the Superdome.

Stats to know

The 49ers and Saints couldn’t have more different offensive approaches. The Saints like to throw the ball all over the field and are second in the NFL in passing yards with 2924. In comparison, San Francisco is dead last with 1565. The 49ers game plan is usually to play smash mouth football and they are fourth in the NFL with 1361 yards rushing. The Saints rank 23rd in that department with 880, however, their defense is tied for dead last in yards per attempt at 5.0 per carry.

Bottom line

San Francisco will need to control the clock and take advantage of the Saints’ soft rush defense to slow this game down. Kaepernick doesn’t have to match Brees, but he does need to make a few plays down the field for the 49ers to have a chance. Even if the Niner’s defense plays well, the Saints are still going to get their points. While San Francisco may indeed need to to win this game, it’s unlikely they will be able to keep up with the Saints given what has been seen from both passing games this season. Things are about to get interesting by the bay.

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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