The San Francisco 49ers watched the New Orleans Saints put on a show in their first-round game against the Detroit Lions, setting offensive yardage records under the leadership of quarterback Drew Brees. Now the Niners will prepare for Saturday, when the Saints come to town for the second round of playoffs.
The key in the game between the 49ers and the Saints will be how the Saints react to the dominant -- at times, overwhelming -- defense of the Niners. San Francisco leaned heavily on their defense to make their impressive run in the 2011 regular season, building their reputation around their effectiveness at limiting points and ground yards. Now San Francisco will lean on their defense yet again, as they hope to stop the over-the-top air attack of Brees and the Saints.
Jeffri Chadiha at ESPN has a great Q&A column up regarding the upcoming NFC playoff games. He takes time to address how the New Orleans offense matches up with the defense of the Niners. Here's what he has to say:
1. Can the Saints play as well in San Francisco as they did at home all season?
No. As explosive as New Orleans was in Saturday's 45-28 win over Detroit -- when the Saints amassed an NFL postseason-record 626 yards -- they won't have two things working in their favor next weekend. They won't have the comfortable confines of the Superdome (where they've been unbeaten this season) and they won't be facing a beaten-up, beleaguered secondary. The 49ers ranked second in the NFL in points allowed (14.3), fourth in yards allowed (308.1) and they have playmakers at every level of their defense. What also has to concern the Saints are the problems Detroit's pass rush created for quarterback Drew Brees during a surprisingly disappointing first half in that contest. Though Brees believes his offense will be ready -- "I feel like our offense is built for any conditions," he said after the Detroit game -- the Lions still had him backpedaling and double-pumping often enough to think they could've pulled an upset. The 49ers have the potential to produce such chaos all game.
If the Lions can have Brees looking out of sorts in the first half of a playoff game at home, it's likely that the Niners defense will give the QB fits at Candlestick Park. It's also worth noting that the Saints may need to rely less on their star running back Darren Sproles in Saturday's game. If there's one thing that the Niners excel at, it's stopping the ground attack.