The 49ers play the Saints Sunday at the Superdome. In the meantime, I’ll break down five key matchups.
RB Darren Sproles vs. LB NaVorro Bowman
When the 49ers front-seven has struggled against running backs this season, they’ve struggled against big, tough running backs.
Sproles is a small, quick back who catches passes more often that he carries the football. He is Brees’ go-to possession receiver. When Brees needs six yards, he checks down to Sproles, who usually can make at least one defender miss.
Brees targeted Sproles 19 times against the Niners in the playoffs last season. Sproles caught 15 passes for 119 yards.
If anyone can shadow Sproles out of the backfield, it’s Bowman, who is one of the quickest linebackers in the NFL. Against the 49ers defense, it’s better to have a good slot receiver than a pass-catching running back, because it’s better to challenge Carlos Rogers than NaVorro Bowman. The Saints offense is not equipped to exploit Rogers in the slot.