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49ers at Saints: Five things to watch

Both teams are 4-4

  1. The New Orleans Saints have been administering heavy a heavy dose of running back Mark Ingramlately, and opponents haven't been left feeling very good. In back-to-back weeks, Ingram has carried 24 times for 172 yards and a touchdown and 30 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints have posted 21- and 18-point victories in those games. It's the best two-game stretch of Ingram's career, and he's showing no ill effects from the broken hand that required surgery to repair (he's at 431 yards and a career-high six touchdowns on 88 carries this season, despite missing three games). But cracking San Francisco's defense won't be easy. The 49ers allow 85.6 yards per game, 3.9 per carry. Still, expect the Saints and Ingram to hammer away. They won't be dissuaded if they aren't successful early; the success and threat of a good running game set up the play action pass.
  1. In case you haven't noticed, tight end Jimmy Graham might be a little banged up, but he's back to being his productive self. He caught seven passes for 83 yards and a touchdown against Carolina, after having five catches for 59 yards and a score against Green Bay. Graham is one of six Saints who caught at least one pass for 18 yards against the Panthers, but his availability is the biggest key. The mismatches he presents and coverage he commands immensely help in the passing game. He'll help open up some passing lanes against a stingy defense.
  1. Playing against Carolina and quarterback Cam Newtonmay have been a decent dress rehearsal for San Francisco and quarterback Colin Kaepernickon Sunday. Kaepernick may be a bit more of a runner, but the elusiveness and speed of the two is comparable. The Saints weren't perfect in their defensive execution against Newton, who escaped the pocket several times. But they sacked him four times (two by Junior Galette) and locked down his receivers. Last year, the Saints sacked Kaepernick three times in a 23-20 victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Being disciplined pass rushers again will benefit New Orleans, because Kaepernick is capable of escaping pressure and making big gains. And in receivers Michael Crabtreeand Anquan Boldin, and tight end Vernon Davis, he has three very good targets.
  1. Keep an eye on "West Bank," because Saints cornerback Keenan Lewisagain his playing at a very high level. If he can limit Crabtree or Boldin, it could put the Saints in good shape defensively. Lewis has been a standout all season, and perhaps he has been best in the last two games. He just has to do it again and get some help from fellow cornerbacks Corey White, who's coming on strong (an interception in consecutive games), and Patrick Robinson.

5.It's no coincidence that during the Saints' current run of three wins in four games, the turnover ratio has been even – eight takeaways, eight giveaways. That's not what the team wants in terms of giveaways, but if the ratio is even and the Saints are taking as often as they're giving, they have a pretty good chance to be successful. The 49ers are plus-4 in takeaways this season; the Saints are minus-6, but they've created eight of their nine turnovers in the last four games. That's a ratio – two forced turnovers per game – that the Saints would love to see continue.

Photos of Mark Ingram from the 2014 regular season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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