The San Francisco 49ers allow an NFL low 13.4 points per game. The New Orleans Saints rank among the top five in the league in points scored and yards gained. After going 13-3 last season with Alex Smith as the starting QB, this year the Niners began 6-2-1. During a 24-24 tie with St. Louis two weeks ago Smith was concussed and Colin Kaepernick took over under center.
In Kaepernick's first start he beat the Bears 32-7 on Monday. Both QB's are healthy, but despite media cries for Smith, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh has named Kaepernick the starter. Is Smith the modern day Wally Pipp? Will the QB competition split the Niners? What we know for sure is that the Saints have dealt with their issues and are back to a winning formula.
The controversy for the Saints took place in the off-season. First quarterback Drew Brees was involved in a lengthy contract dispute. Then the bounty scandal led to the suspension of key players and coaches. Head coach Sean Payton was told to stay away from the team for the entire season. After starting the year 0-4, New Orleans has rolled off five wins in their last six games and the next stop the defense makes will be their first. The Saints rank last in the league in rushing defense. They are better than only Tampa Bay at stopping the pass. Overall New Orleans allows 462.8 yards a game. That is nearly 50 yards more than any other team. But the offense, that's a different story.
Despite a slow start, the Saints offense ranks in the top five among NFL teams in points scored and yards gained. Brees leads the league with 28 passing scores. During a three game winning streak Brees has connected on 72-percent of his throws while passing for eight touchdowns and throwing just one interception.
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During a four game unbeaten streak San Francisco has held their opponent to less than 10 points three times. Monday night Chicago QB Jason Campbell managed just 14 completions in 22 throws for a total of 107 yards while being sacked six times. Bear running backs averaged only three yards per carry. But it is not just San Francisco's defense that has done the job.
The Niners running game is the best in the NFL. They lead the league in yards per game (165.3) and yards a rush (5.5). Frank Gore captains the San Francisco rushing attack. His 831 yards on the ground are eighth best in the league while his 5.3 yards per carry ranks sixth. But Gore is not alone. Kendall Hunter has burst for 343 yards while Smith (4.6ypc) and Kaepernick (7.5ypc) are mobile quarterbacks.
The Niners clipped New Orleans 36-32 in last year’s playoffs. That was with Payton coaching the Saints and Smith at the helm of San Francisco. One question remain the same, can the stout 49ers defense contain the Saints extreme offense? One new query has emerged, can the unproven Kaepernick torch New Orleans like Smith did and everybody else has? New Orleans needs to win to continue their unlikely playoff push after a winless first month. With a victory the 49ers can keep the pressure on Atlanta for the top overall seed in the playoffs.