The New Orleans Saints (4-7) successfully ended their two-game losing streak last Sunday with a win over the Rams. This week, the Saints step up in weight class with a game against San Francisco (6-4) on Sunday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.
The Niners lead the NFC West Division. If the Saints want to move up in the NFC South standings – or, at worst, maintain their current position with a victory – here are a few ways to do it:
- PEEP THIS: Defensively, the Saints need to know what they're seeing with San Francisco's continuous motions and formations on offense. Receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey can line up just about anywhere, and it can create stress in terms of matchups and responsibilities. Finding tendencies can be a challenge because the Niners can divide the ball distribution so evenly, and now they're running the ball (142.3 yards per game in the last three) very well. The Saints have to be disciplined, and they have to minimize explosive plays. Force the Niners to have to chip away on offense.
- SHAKE JIMMY G: New Orleans' pass rush really has rounded into form the last four games, totaling 17 sacks. Even without starting defensive ends Cam Jordan (eye) and Marcus Davenport (calf) against the Rams, they were able to register four sacks mainly thanks to linebacker Kaden Elliss and defensive end Carl Granderson, who had 1.5 each. Jordan and Davenport are back this week, and they'll be needed. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only has been sacked 16 times in nine games this season, so getting him on the turf will be a challenge. But New Orleans at least needs to minimize his comfort with the pass rush, and do so with the front seven. That includes linebackers Demario Davis (6.5 sacks) and Elliss (4.5).
- MR. CLEAN: Saints quarterback Andy Dalton played one of the cleanest games of his career against the Rams – 260 passing yards and three touchdowns while completing 21 of 25 passes – even while having a significant chunk of quarterback snaps go to Taysom Hill. Dalton didn't commit a turnover and even though he probably should have thrown away the ball on a couple of the three sacks he absorbed, that doesn't take away from the fact that his decision-making and execution were high-level. That becomes even more important on the road, against good teams that have good defenses. San Francisco has as many interceptions (nine) as passing touchdowns allowed, has 32 sacks and gives up 203 passing yards per game. It'd be a great time for New Orleans' offensive line to have a banner day, but the reasonable assumption is that Dalton is going to be pressured. When he is, he again has to be wise with his decisions.
- RUN IT: The best way to keep an opponent off your quarterback is to effectively run the ball. New Orleans wasn't great at it against the Rams (24 carries, 88 yards) but the Saints didn't abandon the run and had some strategic gains. San Francisco has the stingiest run defense in the league, allowing just 81.1 yards per game (58 per game in the last three) and 3.4 yards per carry. New Orleans has been most successful in the run game when Alvin Kamara and Hill have had ample touches. The two-quarterback rotation, to the extent it was used against the Rams, was successful and there's no reason to believe the Saints won't use it again against San Francisco. That's where Hill gets his rushing attempts, and the Saints will have to be effective when they do it. The offense has to be in manageable down and distance situations, to keep the 49er defense honest.