The (3-4) New Orleans Saints head to Levi’s Stadium in Week Nine to face the (1-6) San Francisco 49ers. An impressive win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week Eight allowed the Saints to climb five spots to 19th overall in the ESPN NFL Power Rankings. Since their 0-3 start, the Saints have rebounded, winning three of their four last games. The 49ers are hosting the Saints at home following a bye week and should be recharged. They will be looking to end a six-game losing streak. San Francisco has won three of the last four match ups against the Saints, including a victorious divisional playoff round in 2011. This week will prove to be all about the run game for both teams on both sides of the ball.
New Orleans Saints Week Nine Keys to Victory
The Saints Run Game
The ability of the New Orleans Saints to utilize their run game could prove to be the deciding factor in Week Nine. Drew Brees and his high-powered offense lead the league in passing and should continue to put up points this week in San Francisco. However, they tend to be inconsistent with their passing attack when playing outdoors. They will want to put extra focus on the run game this week.
San Francisco is horrible against the run. There is no way of sugar-coating this. They are the worst in the league, allowing 185.1 yards per game for a total of 1296 yards and 10 touchdowns. They have lost their last six games, and allowed six straight 100-yard rushers. Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacquizz Rodgers had 154 rushing yards and back up Peyton Barber added another 84 yards and a touchdown. In Week Six against the Buffalo Bills, the stats were no better for the 49ers. LeSean McCoy accumulated 140 yards and three touchdowns with back up Mike Gillislee adding another 61 yards and a touchdown. Not only have the 49ers been flattened by opposing team running backs, but the backups and reserves have also been successful.
The Saints rushing offense is currently ranked 25th in the NFL with an average of 88.1 yards per game. This is largely because on their lethal air attack, where they are putting up 327 passing yards per game. San Francisco will be looking to ground this attack even despite their dismal rushing defense.
The Saints have several rushing weapons that have been under-utilized until recently. Last week, Tim Hightower gave the Saints their first 100-yard rusher of the season. He rushed 26 times in their 25-20 victory over the Seahawks. Mark Ingram has historically been the Saints leading running back, but lost a fumble last week for the second time in two weeks kept him sidelined for the remainder of the game. He is averaging 3.8 yards per carry. According to head coach Sean Payton, the Saints are expected to use a running back committee approach this week. If executed properly, the Saints could join the ranks of 49er opponents in weeks seven and eight, by allowing both running backs to gain yardage on the ground. If they can get their run game moving again this week, the Saints should finish Week Nine with a win.
The Saints Run Defense
Stopping running back Carlos Hyde will be crucial for the New Orleans Saints if they want to win the game in Week Nine. Hyde is averaging 71 rushing yards per game in 2016. He leads his team with a total of 429 rushing yards and six total touchdowns.
The 49ers are ranked fourth in the league with 128.6 rushing yards per game. That is in stark contrast to their record for passing yards which has them ranked dead last. A struggling passing game has led to a crippling reliance by the 49ers on Hyde. Putting a stop to the rushing attack will force quarterback Colin Kaepernick to pass more often. And as the 49er’s season has indicated – Kaepernick has had issues doing this well.
The Saints defense may be bad, but they rank 17th against the rush, actually making this one of their strengths. If they can minimize the 110 yards they allow per game and stop Hyde, they will be better-positioned to win the football game.
The Saints Pass Defense
Colin Kaepernick has been unable to provide the San Francisco offense with any kind of spark this season. His coaches think that he is getting progressively better. Offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins claims that there were very positive tweaks made over the bye week.
The Saints pass defense needs to be prepared for everything. They are currently ranked 29th in the league in passing yards allowing 286.7 per game. While they have shown small improvements each week, they will not be playing full tilt while their secondary remains in its current injury-laden disaster. Six of their defensive backs linger on injured reserve. New Orleans has allowed 30 or more points in over half of their games. They have only three interceptions on the season.
As bad as the 49ers offense may be, Kaepernick could still have plenty of chances to put points on the board. If the New Orleans defense plans to stop the run, they need to be prepared to also disallow any kind of passing attack, regardless of how bad it may be.
Week Nine will predominantly be about the run game on both sides of the ball for the New Orleans Saints. While they should be able to put up points with Drew Brees leading his offense, the defense is the questionable side of the ball. Their calibre of play tends to determine whether or not the Saints finish each ball game with a win or a loss. If they can stop Carlos Hyde and the rushing attack, and force Colin Kaepernick into scary passing situations, the Saints should be able to pull out a win this week.