Here are five reasons the Niners have a good chance to beat the Saints on Saturday.
1. The Niners can get pressure on Drew Brees with their front by attacking the weak link on the Saints line – center Brian De La Puente – with Aldon Smith on stunts. Justin Smith can occupy Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks and free up Aldon Smith to swing around, beat De La Puente and crash the pocket where Brees likes to step up.
2. The Niners have a good chance to neutralize the Saints x-factors on offense – Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham – with NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, respectively. Yes, Jimmy Graham is six inches taller than Willis, but Willis has covered taller tight ends well all season long. And if Bowman could keep Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy in front of him in Philadelphia, he can contain Darren Sproles on Candlestick’s grass.
3. A big part of the Saints’ improvement on offense comes from their ability to run the ball this year. They will not be able to do this against the Niners. They will be a one-dimensional passing team like they were last year against Seattle in the playoffs.
4. The Niners have a top-notch home red-zone defense (allowing TDs just 25 percent of the time), while the Saints scored touchdowns only seven times out of 22 chances on grass this season in the red zone. The Saints will move the ball, but the Niners defense should be able to hold them to field goals.
5. The Niners will be able to run on the Saints defense. Frank Gore is rested and presumably healthy enough. He should get 20 carries and average near five yards a pop. The Niners will control the time of possession and, most importantly, keep the snap count low for Drew Brees and the Saints high-powered offense.