Home Featured Teams New Orleans Saints Saints and 49ers Square Off in Highly Anticipated Clash of NFC Contenders

Saints and 49ers Square Off in Highly Anticipated Clash of NFC Contenders

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert and New Orleans Saints

After locking up the NFC South with a payback victory vs. the Falcons, the New Orleans Saints now control their destiny for the No. 1 seed in the conference. If they want to keep it that way, they’ll have to get defeat another contender this Sunday in an important matchup.

The Saints (10-2) host the 49ers (10-2) this week in a major showdown that the nation will be squarely focused on. The Saints currently hold the advantage in a three-way tie atop the NFC with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

This is the first time in the history of the Superdome that two teams have a combined four losses or less in a game in December or later (including the playoffs), according to NOLA.

The Saints will need to slow down the 49ers’ elite offense. The 49ers are second in the league in points per game (29.1) and rushing yards per game (148).

“They do a fabulous job rushing the football. They, formationally, give you a lot of different things, personnel groups and you’ve got to move to these spots when you see the wide zone come and then there’s change up plays off of it,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “And then, of course, the play-action that comes from those same looks. Those all present challenges.”

Saints quarterback Drew Brees will be going up against the league’s No. 1 pass defense (134.2 yards per game). Payton breaks down what makes the 49ers so potent in that area.

It is a combination or a handful of things. They do a great job up front getting after the quarterback. So the time that quarterback has to throw isn’t as long and they’re extremely talented in the back end in coverage,” Payton said. “They do a good job of understanding their zones, understanding their mans and understanding the scheme they’re playing.”

The Saints are ninth in the league in points per game (24.7) but Brees expects much more from the offense.

“There’s still a lot to be desired. I think offensively especially. I feel like there are a lot of opportunities out there,” Brees said. “We have to be able to consistently put drives together, make big plays when we have the chance and just be more complimentary all the way around.”

Taysom Hill could be part of the answer for the Saints to counter the 49ers’ attack. The versatile playmaker blocked a punt as well as rushing for a touchdown and catching another score on Thanksgiving vs. the Falcons.

“There aren’t many guys like him. The first one I’ve coached like him,” Payton said. “…I don’t think there’s anyone that enjoys playing football more than him. That kind of rubs off and is contagious on his teammates. When a guy like him makes a play, you see guys get excited.”

Hill embodies the next man up environment the Saints have cultivated during a season in which they’ve been hampered with a slew of injuries. From top to bottom, the Saints have built a roster with plenty of depth.

“You have to develop the back end of your roster and you have to be ready to play guys that maybe at the start of the year might not have even been active or might not have been on the roster,” Payton said. “We’ve got a couple of those guys now. That’s part of the deal. I’m pleased to see them come in and quickly get acclimated and have success. Our jobs as coaches is to give them the best chances to have success.”

The Saints wore shirts that read “The South is not enough” after clinching the division for a third consecutive season. The main goal is to avenge last season’s NFC title game heartbreaker vs. the Rams and hoist the franchise’s second Lombardi Trophy.

If the Saints beat the 49ers and Colts at home, followed by the Titans and Panthers on the road, the NFC’s path to the Super Bowl will go through New Orleans.

“This was objective No. 1 obviously, winning the division. You know our mindset, the guys we have and just kind of how we progressed each and every year. We’ve got bigger fish to fry so to speak but have a list of goals and objectives. We just want to knock them down one by one, but at the end of the day, let’s just keep it simple right now,” Brees said. “Let’s just focus on playing our best football. I still think it’s out there on both sides of the ball. If we continue to do that and do better each week, we’ll see what happens.”

Get the latest pre-game updates and analysis on Saints Gameday (10:30 am CT). After the Game, get highlights, analysis and player interviews including an exclusive interview with Drew Brees on Saints Tonight (10:30 pm CT) – Sunday, December 8th on Cox Sports TV (Cox Ch. 1037 in Louisiana. Other regions check local listings).