The San Francisco 49ers are going to have trouble keeping up with a high octane offense in the 2012 NFL Playoffs - such a statement is about as close to fact as you can get when speculating about a team's ability or inability to perform against another team. Thus, the key to winning in the playoffs, specifically on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints and their somewhat ridiculous offense with somewhat ridiculous quarterback Drew Brees, is to chip away at its foundations rather than try and keep pace with it.
If the less-ridiculous Alex Smith and less-ridiculous 49ers offense try and match Brees and his army of ball-catching minions, the results will be laughable. San Francisco need not get antsy and start flinging the ball around like they're Tim Tebow or something. No, the Saints are just like many of the opponents the 49ers have faced this year, and as such, the gameplan should remain the same.
Said gameplan being something not entirely unlike "good defense and a hope and prayer on offense."
While that's probably over-simplifying things and not giving the 49ers enough credit, the point hammers home where it should: just keep playing your game. All the buzz has been about the 49ers' offense in comparison to the Saints, and not about one of the league's best offenses up against one of the league's best defenses. No, maybe the 49ers can't produce like Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are able to, but Detroit's defense also just got torched for what seemed like several thousand yards by Matt Flynn.
Defensively, the 49ers have a very good chance to chip away at the Saints on multiple fronts. Almost all of the keys to winning this game fall on the 49ers' defense (and special teams, of course), and there are several arguments in regards to a potential 49ers victory on Saturday.
It all starts with the fact that the game is being played at Candlestick Park. While Brees isn't going to suddenly become this convulsing mass, vomiting footballs into the hands of defensive backs on every play while he struggles to grasp the basic fundamentals of football and exactly why there are 11 angry men trying to rip him limb from limb, the difference is and has been noticeable in the past.
All the better if the 49ers can get pressure on Brees in his already-uncomfortable playing situation. Justin Smith is ... Justin Smith, while Aldon Smith should see significant time. While Parys Haralson has been much better this season than anyone has given him credit for, this game will quickly require Aldon's ability to disrupt much more than Haralson's ability to contain. Expect Aldon to be used creatively and aggressively. San Francisco needs a way to shake the unshakable, and Aldon was drafted for that very reason.
Sure, the 49ers have been prone to the defensive breakdown here or there, but they're also infinitely better than Detroit at forcing the other side into offensive breakdowns. Turnovers have been plentiful, and Brees is not immune to throwing bad passes. Heck, there were multiple points in which the Lions sort of watched potential interceptions fly by their faces into the hands of players who had no business being open.
On top of that, the Saints have become more than a one-dimensional offense with the emergence of their running game this season. Will they be able to run on the 49ers? Not likely. San Francisco's run defense eventually did allow a rushing touchdown, but they came with players resting against the St. Louis Rams and immediately following a special teams turnover against the Seattle Seahawks. Their rush defense is scary good.
Missed tackles probably won't be a problem, either. Even the guys who are somewhat unknown like Haralson and Ray McDonald are very sound tacklers. Too many times, Pierre Thomas had a rush, was almost tackled, and picked up the first down or another five yards before finally being brought down. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman aren't likely to make such mistakes.
Will Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and the rest of the secondary have their hands full with the Saints receivers? You bet, and Brees will likely have a lot of yards. But the 49ers aren't likely to give up touchdowns once the Saints reach the red zone, and players like Sproles and Jimmy Graham will have trouble beating Willis and Bowman like they have been beating other players this season.
This is the best offense the 49ers have faced this season. It's also the best defense the Saints have faced this season.