49ers' Keys to the Game:
RB Frank Gore – Gore is one of the best backs in the NFL, and the 49ers are going to need him to play much better than his 38 yards on 17 carries in week 1 against the Seahawks. It is clear that Alex Smith is not an elite QB in this league, so having him attempt 45 passes like last week is generally not a great idea. The offense, and really the whole season, may lie on RB Frank Gore’s shoulders.
Emulate the Vikings' Defense – The Vikings may have lost to the Saints, but they held them to just 14 points. In the first 13 games last year the lowest point total any team held the Saints to was 24 points, done by the Jets who had the number one defense. After letting up a quick touchdown, the Vikings were able to hold the Saints to a 3.2 yards per carry average and created long third down situations, where they were able to get the Saints off the field (Saints were 3-11 on third downs). Look for the 49ers to copy the Vikings game plan on defense.
Players to watch:
LB Patrick Willis – One of the best defensive players in the NFL, if not the best. I predicted him to win the Defensive Player of the Year award; we will see if he can have a big game against a great offense.
TE Vernon Davis – Davis is a playmaker at the tight end position, and nightmare for defenses to match up against. He is 6’3” 250 lbs and can run in the 4.4’s in the 40. He had a good first game with 8 receptions and 73 yards. It will be interesting to see how the Saints try to take away the 49ers biggest receiving threat.
WR Michael Crabtree – Crabtree held out for the first five games of his rookie season, but still had a nice season, with 48 receptions and 625 yards. I want to see what he can do with a full year.
Saints Keys to the Game:
Attack down the Field – Last week the 49ers made an average Seahawks offense look very good in their 31-6 loss. The Saints have a lot more weapons than the Seahawks and have QB Drew Brees under center. They should have no problem moving the ball on the 49ers' defense.
Get up early and make the 49ers one dimensional – If the Saints can get up early on the 49ers, it could be a long day for the 49ers. Taking the ball out of the hands of RB Frank Gore and making QB Alex Smith try his luck against the Saints' talented defensive backs plays right into the strengths of the Saints. The Saints did a good job last week of making Adrian Peterson, one of the best running backs in the game, irrelevant. I expect them to do much of the same this week.
Players to watch:
DE Will Smith – Smith is one of the top defensive ends in the game, but had a pretty quiet game against the Vikings. It should be an interesting match-up between the 49ers young offensive tackles and Smith, who can be very disruptive.
RB Pierre Thomas – A really hard runner and a fun back to watch, Thomas is a lot better tailback then Reggie Bush but does not receive nearly the same attention.
WR Robert Meachem – Meachem is a big play threat for the Saints. Last year he had only 45 receptions but averaged 16 yards per catch, and had 9 touchdowns.
The Pick: Saints -5.5, this game may be closer than people think, but I think the defending super bowl champs should have no problem beating the 49ers by at least a touchdown.