Blog Entry

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

Posted on: January 7, 2012 11:43 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 12:01 am
Dallas' last loss caused one fan to take up arms. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

We joked on Friday's playoff preview podcast that maybe Jim Harbaugh was trying to stick it to archnenemy Jim Schwartz one last time by suggesting last week that the 49ers would focus most of their bye-week preparation on facing the Saints in the NFC Divisional round, even though there was a chance they could face the Falcons or Giants.

Harbaugh and Schwartz had trouble executing the post-game handshake back in October, when the 49ers went into Detroit and beat the then-undefeated Lions. (Turns out, the feud may have been brewing for months.) And we're guessing Schwartz relished the thought of going to San Francisco and beating Harbaugh in the 49ers' first playoff game since 2002.

First he and the Lions would have to get past the Saints in the Superdome.  Things starting well enough, but Drew Brees did what Drew Brees does and the final score wasn't close. Whether Harbaugh's Jedi mind trick backfired or if he really did spend most of the week planning for the Saints, New Orleans will take the field in San Francisco next Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

So do the 49ers have a chance? Absolutey.

No word yet on the Vegas line (we'll guess Saints -7) but slowing Brees (forget about stopping him) in 2011 has proven nearly impossible. He threw for 5,476 yards during the regular season, including seven consecutive games of more than 300 yards, including 25 touchdowns and three interceptions.

But the 49ers aren't helpless; they have one of the league's most physical defenses (they were No. 3 overall, first against the run and eighth against the pass). San Francisco also has the advantage of playing at home, although Brees this season was just as effective outdoors as he was in a dome (69.6 percent vs. 72.1 percent; 95.7 passer rating vs. 118.7). As part of the preparation, Harbaugh might look at two games that show that the Saints are fallible.

Record-shattering Drew Brees threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints poured it on in the second half for a 45-28 NFC wild-card victory over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night. 

First: the Seahawks' wild-card win over the Saints during the 2010 playoffs. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown in that game and the Saints didn't have an answer for him. They also scored 41 points. The 49ers don't have a workhorse like Lynch in their backfield, at least one who's healthy. (And they also don't score a ton of points.) Their running game ranks 24th, and Frank Gore, who has been banged up for most of the year, is near the bottom of the league among all running backs in terms of total value and value per play, according to Football Outsiders.

Second: during Week 2 of the 2010 season, the 49ers played the Saints tough in San Francisco, back when Mike Singletary was still patrolling the sidelines and Alex Smith was perpetually a play away from getting benched.

New Orleans won 25-22 on a last-second field goal. Gore rushed for 112 yards on 20 carries (5.6 yards per carry) in the game, and Smith threw for 275 yards, completing 23 of 32 passes. Brees, meanwhile, managed just 254 yards in the air. (In the 30 regular-season games since, Brees has thrown for fewer yards once.)

But 20 months later and both teams are different. The Saints' offense is as finely tuned as any offense ever, and the 49ers have gone from eight years of losing to winning 13 games, the NFC West and the No. 2 seed in the conference. Harbaugh, who should be the unanimous choice for coach of the year, has his toughest job in front of him: convincing his team that they can hang with New Orleans.

It's not impossible -- San Francisco had their chance last year, Seattle capitalized on their opportunity, and the hapless Rams pulled if off this season -- just improbable.

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Since: Jul 18, 2008
Posted on: January 9, 2012 6:56 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

the old addage D wins championships doesn't work in the new nfl.  people try to warp it to fit who wins, but the only team that had a D and a "managable" O who won was the ravens.  smith/gore are slightly better than that baltimore team, but that D isn't even close to the baltimore defense..  that was a long time ago and the rules have changed.  besides, Alex Smith hasn't been asked to keep up with an explosive O.  harbaugh has managed his assets wisely, but at some point there has to be some talent on the field.

Since: Jan 8, 2012
Posted on: January 8, 2012 12:12 pm

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

wow!!! and i thought that all nfl teams play 50%-50% home and away games. not a road team... hmmm.. 13-3( now 14-3),unless my math is just terrible then the saints have already proven the label inaccurate. hopefully it will only further motivate a record setting team that played a much tougher schedule then the 49ers. that niner defense must have the saint offense trembling just like the lion defense which had the super defender,suh back who was suspended in the first meeting and according to many was the only reason the saints managed to win. i guess we will just have to see if the drew and the gang can pull it off and beat that incredible niner team.......

Since: Nov 2, 2006
Posted on: January 8, 2012 11:51 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

This is why the playoff format has to change. The 49ers have a first round bye and home field over the Saints. This is an almost impossible advantage for the Saints or anyone else to overcome. Also, the Saints have to travel a long distance (we know what happened to them in Seattle last year).

Why should the 2 seed have that huge an advantage over the 3 seed, especially since New Orleans and San Fran tied and San Fran won the tiebreaker by conference record (because they didn't have to play in Green Bay)? Make it seven or eight teams per conference. The 2 seed still gets home field in the second round but has to play in the first round and could lose or get worn out.

Bye week + Home field advantage is way too big of an advantage between two teams that were pretty close in the standings. I don't mind the #1 seed getting that advantage because they are the best team and they play a team seeded 4 or lower. But in a 2 vs. 3, a bye + HFA is unfair.

Since: Jan 8, 2012
Posted on: January 8, 2012 11:08 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

Clash of D vs O. The saints have looked great throughout the season. They have done nothing but improve after each loss they have endured. They have not quite played a defence as adverse as the 49ers. The Niners D can hit you in multiple regions of your O. By taking away the run game it will put Brees and the saints in a situation where they will be forced to pass, though this is the saints comfort zone as of lately. This still seems very one dementional. As we know no team can win a superbowl being one dementional (besides the Colts). Another factor to take in concideration is the 49ers will have had two weeks of preperation for this fantastic Saint Offense. Either way the game plays out you are in for a tough match up for both teams.

Since: Jan 8, 2012
Posted on: January 8, 2012 11:05 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

The key to this game will be the 49ers ability to create turnovers and limit their own, just as they have been doing all season (+28 turnover ratio).  The game last night would have been a lot different if the Lions defenders could have held onto the ball.  When Brees is pressured he can be careless and the 49ers have taken advantage of these opportunities all year.   This, with a combination of stout run defense and far superior special teams, will give the niners a great chance this weekend at home.   

Since: Dec 3, 2006
Posted on: January 8, 2012 10:30 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

last time i checked the super bowl the saints won in miami was played outside not in a dome. Yes it is true the saints are 0 and 3 in road play offs. two of those losses to chicago and one against the seahawks last year. not a huge number of games. over the last 3 years the saints do have a winning record on the road in the regular season. The main thing the saints will have to deal with next week is the 49er defense not the grass or the stadium.

Since: Mar 23, 2008
Posted on: January 8, 2012 9:17 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

I agree totally.  The key in my mind is that this is an outdoor game on the road where the Saints have proven to be beatable.  Brees is good but it's not like they score every time they get the ball - see the first half of the Liions game.  The Saints were pretty pedestrian against a defense with a weak secondary.

 I look for a good game...And as a Packers fan thank the lord that Green Bay will only have to play one of these teams proviced they survive next week!

Since: Feb 24, 2007
Posted on: January 8, 2012 9:16 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

The Niners played: Rams twice, the Cardinals twice, Seahawks twice, Ravens, Steelers, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Browns, Redskins...that is enough to make any defense look good.

They also played the overrated Eagles.

Their three quality wins were the Lions, NYG and Bengals.

The Niners had the 30th ranked Strength of schedule...the Saints 13th.

My point is the Niners cannot get 10-14 points down...or it is OVER.

Since: Feb 1, 2007
Posted on: January 8, 2012 8:32 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

I may be a little biased because I am a 49ers fan, but everybody has to get off Brees pole for a second.  I mean, he is a HOF QB, but he isn't unstoppable. As I remember it, he has only one ring and that's because dumbass Favre threw a pick at the end of the championship game.  The Saints have absolutely no defense and that is going to hurt them. I think the Niners have a good shot because the Saints arent going to stop the Niners offensively, we just have to hope Alex Smith doesnt revert to his usual crappy ways. On a side note, I don't care about the scouting combine and forty yard dash times. All that tells me is that Alex Smith is a better prospect than Aaron Rodgers.  We all seen how that has turned out.

Since: Dec 7, 2011
Posted on: January 8, 2012 2:33 am

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

haebaugh and tge forty niners are a good story, but it is going to end. they are not good enough to beat the saints.

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