The 49ers and Saints square off on Saturday afternoon in a matchup for a tough, physical 49ers defense and a high-flying Saints offense. The 49ers and Saints did not get to 13-3 and this playoff matchup without a little bit of talent. That provides us with some incredible matchups to follow.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area broke down some of the most pertinent matchups to watch. He focused on two 49ers defensive matchups and one 49ers offensive matchup. On defense, he suggested LB Patrick Willis versus TE Jimmy Graham and LB/DE Aldon Smith versus OT Jermon Bushrod were the two of the most significant matchups. On offense, he pointed to RB Frank Gore versus SS Roman Harper.
Maiocco pointed to the pass protection issues with Harper as well as the rushing game. Harper leads the Saints in sacks, but also is pivotal in their rush defense. I would actually argue that fullback Bruce Miller factors into this matchup as much as anybody. In pass protection he and Gore will both have plenty of work. However, in the running game, the 49ers would love to see Bruce Miller getting into the second level to get blocks on Harper and other second level defenders.
Miller has been an upgrade over Moran Norris in part because he has had the athleticism to get into the second level and spring some longer Gore runs. The 49ers best chance to win this game is control the clock and dominate in the rushing game. They can win in other ways, but this combined with their defense and special teams is their bread and butter. Bruce Miller's role in this game could prove pivotal.