Closer look at 49ers-Saints matchups

This is not a GPS game, per se, but you can certainly look at this four-week stretch that begins Sunday as an indicator of where the 49ers stand in the NFL.


This is not a GPS game, per se, but you can certainly look at this four-week stretch that begins Sunday as an indicator of where the 49ers stand in the NFL.

The 49ers’ next four games are against the Saints, Patriots, Eagles and Giants.

If they go winless, that’s not good. If they can win one of four, they’re still in the ballgame as a potential contender in the NFC West. If they win two of these games, well, it could get very interesting.

There are no longer any “Win the West” banners hanging outside the team’s locker room. Coach Mike Nolan has fallen in line with the rest of the sporting universe with his one-game-at-a-time mantra. Keeping that in mind, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Here is a closer look at some key matchups in tomorrow’s game:

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49ers defense (everyone) vs. Saints RB Reggie Bush: When Bush ran through the 49ers two seasons ago at the Superdome, the 49ers were unable to match his speed. It looked like the 49ers’ linebackers that day were running in quicksand. Now, the 49ers have Willis at linebacker. Of course, he will not always be responsible for covering Bush out of the backfield, but he (and his speed) must play a major role in containing the former Heisman Trophy winner. Everyone has to get involved in putting the clamps on Bush, from the defensive line to the cornerbacks and safeties. When Bush is split out wide, he becomes as much of a threat to Nate Clements and Walt Harris as any receiver they’ll match up against today.

DE/OLB Justin Smith vs. LT Jammal Brown: Smith lines up all over the place, but he’s generally on the right side (the offense’s left) on base downs. Brown is one of the best tackles in the league. (When I re-did the 2005 draft last year, I determined – using the gift of hindsight – that the 49ers should have selected him with the No. 1 overall pick.) Smith has been better than advertised. “Cowboy” rarely comes off the field. Even when he does not get credit for a sack or tackle, it seems he did something on the play to cause some disruption for the offense.

DT Justin Smith vs. LG Carl Nicks: This guy, Smith, looks an awful lot like that other Justin Smith – the one who lines up at DE and OLB and is mentioned above. This Smith moves inside to DT on pass-rush situations. Staring guard Jamar Nesbit is out of action because of a league-imposed suspension for violating the policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. That means Carl Nicks gets his first NFL start. Nicks (6-foot-5, 343 pounds) will try to get his hands on Smith and maul him, while Smith will try to use his quickness and moves to get around the rookie.

DE Parys Haralson vs. RT Jon Stinchcomb: Throughout last season, Niners GM Scot McCloughan kept saying that Haralson was very close to breaking through as a pass-rusher. It never quite clicked for him in Year 2, but it now looks as if he has arrived. Haralson comes into the game in passing situations. He lines on the left side. That means he’ll be matched against Stinchcomb, who has been beaten for one sack in the first three games. Haralson leads the 49ers with three sacks.

RT Barry Sims vs. DE Charles Grant: Sims makes his second start after Jonas Jennings went down with a shoulder injury. This is a big test for Sims, who has been plagued by penalties in recent season. Grant, for some reason, is not nearly the pass-rush threat as he was a few years ago after back-to-back 10-plus sack seasons. His numbers have declined steadily since 2005. He does have one sack in the first three games, though.

WR Isaac Bruce vs. CB Mike McKenzie: Bruce was held without a catch in the opener; he caught 153 yards in passes in Game 2; and then he was held to two receptions for 19 yards last week. Which Bruce will show up in the Superdome? At least the 49ers have enough offensive weapons (can you believe I just wrote that?) so J.T. O’Sullivan can spread the ball around a little. McKenzie is a 10-year pro who has put together some big games against the 49ers in the past – whether with the Packers or the Saints.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz vs. defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs: Martz has shown a new wrinkle in each of the 49ers’ first three games. So, let’s see, that would seem to suggest that he’ll break out something different in this game, too. Gibbs was a candidate for the Cowboys’ head-coaching job in 2007 and interviewed with owner Jerry Jones. However, his stock is falling. The Saints own the No. 28-ranked defense in the league. Look for them to try to get some hits on O’Sullivan using much the same game plan as the Seahawks did up there. That also could open the door for the 49ers to convert some big plays down the field.

Niners offensive snap count vs. Saints home crowd/defense: Things got mighty predictable when the 49ers tried to counter the noise problems at Seattle‘s Qwest Field with a silent count. Center Eric Heitmann looked down and when he raised his head back up, he snapped the ball. The 49ers did the same thing every play after making that adjustment at halftime. This time, coach Mike Nolan said they’ll mix it up a little. But the 49ers can’t afford to get too fancy and out-fool themselves. How they deal with the noise will be a factor in the game.

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Niners owner John York and the 49ers Foundation donated $35,000 to Warren Easton High School in New Orleans today. The 49ers organization also helped paint lockers at the school during an event in conjunction with the school’s celebration of its 95th anniversary.

“We are honored the 49ers ownership and 49ers Foundation have chosen our school to help build a new health care center,” said Alexina Medley, Warren Easton High School Principal. “The $35,000 will help give our students who do not currently receive proper health care, the opportunity to through our new health clinic.”

Warren Easton High School, New Orleans’ oldest public high school, was founded in 1845 and moved three times before settling in its “new building” at 3019 Canal Street in 1913. The Louisiana landmark took on eight feet of water in Hurricane Katrina and was closed for one school year. The school reopened in 2006 as a charter school overseen by a group of alumni. In May 2008, the school graduated 98 percent of its senior class.

In 2006, the San Francisco 49ers gave back to the New Orleans community by painting a cafeteria at Bunche Accelerated Academy in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson Parish.

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