The only thing worth talking about with regards to the 49ers is who will be the starting quarterback for the team come week 12. ESPN’s Trent Dilfer says he heard from Alex Smith that Jim Harbaugh told Alex and Colin Kaepernick that Kaepernick was going to get all of the first team reps leading up to this Sunday’s game in New Orleans. Speculation says that Kaepernick is most likely to start the game but nothing is for certain just like Alex Smith’s medical condition leading up to the game vs. the Bears.
Whoever does start, the 49ers must travel to the Big Easy and face the surging Saints (5-5) who have 5 of their last 6 games after starting the season 0-4. The 49ers (7-2-1), meanwhile, are possibly in a transition period after seeing Colin Kaepernick and that offense dismantle the Bears on a national stage. Colin might start the game but no one can forget the last time these two teams met in the divisional round of the playoffs last season where Alex Smith and the 49ers managed to out duel the Saints 36-32.
Unlike the 49ers, the Saints have no questions at QB. The high passing Drew Brees has thrown for a 28 TDs (NFL Best) and is throwing a 62.3 completion percentage in 2012. He has thrown 9 interceptions but has a QB Rating of 99.8. During the last 3 games, he has thrown for 8 TDs and just one pick while having a QB rating of over 100 in each game.
As for his protection, Brees has been sacked only 16 times this season which leaves the Saints tied for 6th least amount of sacks allowed (tied with Cleveland).
The Saints frontline, however, might have problems with the NFC Defensive Player of the Week Aldon Smith of the 49ers. Smith sacked Jason Campebll of the Bears 5.5 times in week 11 which gives him 15 on the season (NFL Best). Now the Saints might pay more attention to Aldon this weekend but he doesn’t seemed too concerned at that possibility.
“I feel like teams are going to find ways to slow me down,” Smith said. “I’m going to find a way to beat what they’re trying to do. Sometimes it works like that.”
It’s not just Aldon Smith they have to worry about but also his teammate DE Justin Smith coming from the same side. He an Aldon Smith were a handful for the Bear. Brees also has to mind the passing defense of the 49ers as a whole. San Francisco is actually the 2nd best team in the NFL statistically regarding pass defense as they are allowing an average 182.9 passing yards per game.
As for a possible Saints rushing attack, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram account for 653 rushing yards of the team’s 947 yards on the ground. However, the big threat might be Darren Sproles who is likely to be coming back this week after a hand injury kept him out the last two games. Though Sproles might be more of a threat as a receiver. He has 39 receptions for 323 yards and 4 TDs as a target for Drew Brees this season.
As for other targets of Brees, it’s hard to determine Drew’s favorite as he seems like an even distributing QB. WR Marques Colston and TE Jimmy Graham, however, seem to get a bit more attention with each one having caught 51 balls. Of Brees’ 28 TD passes, Colston and Graham account for 15 of them. It might be tricky for the 49er secondary to contain the aerial attack this week.
The 49ers offense, meanwhile, are just the opposite of the Saints who are pass heavy while San Francisco is run balanced. Anyone who saw the Monday Night game between them and the Bears saw all the unique packages that the 49ers will run the ball in, a reason why they are the best rushing team in the country entering week 11 (165.3 rushing yards per game).
Another reason why is the great distribution of carries between Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and the rest of the team. Gore himself represents half the ground game with about 5.3 yards per carry for 831 yards (rest of team has 822 rushing yards averaging 5.6 yards per carry). Whether the other half of the ground game is Kendall Hunter or anyone else that they can give it to, the 49ers will find a way to run the ball, especially on the Saints who are dead last in the NFL in rushing defense allowing on average 157.8 yards rushing per game.
For the game in New Orleans, however, everyone will be more interested with the 49ers passing game for a change. If it is indeed Colin Kaepernick that is starting for San Francisco, the passing attack is likely to be riskier. Kaepernick went 16/23 for 243 passing yards and threw his first two career passing TDs in his first NFL start in week 11. He seemed more confident throwing the ball and made some passes that made plenty teammates give praise.
“Colin is the man!” 49ers TE Vernon Davis said in the postgame press conference last Monday. “I’m very proud of him. He stepped up today. He did some great things to help us win this game.”
Vernon Davis might be the best target for the Kaepernick this weekend. He certainly had a good game vs. the Bears as well getting 6 receptions (season high) along with 83 yards and a TD catch. While Davis did catch the most balls from Kaepernick in that game, you can’t forget about Michael Crabtree who has the most receptions (47) and receiving yards (541) on the 49ers this year. Crabtree also caught a TD pass from Kaepernick in that win over the Bears.
While the Saints have improved a bit on defense, they are still the 2nd worst pass defense team in the country allowing 305 passing yards per game. Though that is a fact and they have only 7 interceptions all season as a defense, 4 of those picks have come in the last three games.
What is likely to happen in New Orleans? A possible nail biter that will have many Red and Gold faithful wondering if Colin can do the same thing that Alex Smith did last January against the Saints: Win.
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Written by Daniel Trucios