Three wins in their last four games have the New Orleans Saints in position to reach .500 with a victory against the 49ers on Sunday. Defensively, New Orleans probably has had its best back-to-back games of the season against Kansas City and Seattle, with 20 and 13 points allowed, but it'll need to keep it up against an opponent that has lost six straight games, but had a bye week with which to self-scout and to prepare for the Saints. Here are a few items that may be worth keeping in mind against the 49ers:
- By more than 40 yards per game, San Francisco has the worst run defense in the league (185.1 yards per game allowed, on 5.1 yards per carry). For a Saints team that posted 35 run attempts against Seattle in a 25-20 on Sunday, this would appear to be an opportune time to pound away again behind Terron Armstead, who ran 26 times for 102 yards against the Seahawks. Now, that doesn't mean the Saints suddenly are going to turn into a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense; it simply means that statistically, this defense could offer some big opportunities on the ground for New Orleans.
- The Niners have a top 10 defense in terms of passing yards allowed. That's deceiving. Because the Niners haven't stopped the run, opponents haven't needed much to throw the ball. When they do, they're averaging 222.4 yards per game, with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. And since we know the Saints aren't going to stray far from their personality, we know the ball is going to be in Drew Brees'hands and he's going to use the array of receivers that have helped the Saints to a league-best 326.9 passing yards per game. Drew Brees(530 yards), Michael Thomas(500) and Drew Brees(439) all are on pace to be 1,000-yard receivers and each has taken at least one turn as the leading man in a game. Those options make the Saints' passing offense extremely dangerous.
- Has Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernicklost the magic that made him a rising star, or can he recapture it? The Saints will learn some answers to those questions Sunday, when Kaepernick makes his third start of the season, this time having had a bye week to prepare for New Orleans. When Kaepernick was the apple of the NFL's eye for most of the 2012-14 seasons, he was a dual threat who led the Niners to the NFC championship ('12) and the NFC championship game ('13). In 45 regular-seasons during that stretch, he passed for 8,380 yards and 50 touchdowns, with 21 interceptions, and ran 259 times for 1,578 yards and 10 touchdowns. Since coming back from injury and starting the last two games, he has passed for 330 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, and has run 17 times for 150 yards. But, also, Kaepernick has been sacked seven times and has fumbled three times, losing one. Opponents generally want to keep him in the pocket and to take away the run option, but they've been able to get to him, too. New Orleans will have a chance to get after him.
- This is a relatively young Saints team and, hopefully, the taste of recent success has it thirsting for more rather than feeling too much of a sense of accomplishment. New Orleans is in the thick of the NFC South Division race; stacking wins is the only way to get where it wants to go. The Niners can't be overlooked in the process.