49ers at Saints: Three keys to upsetting the Saints for playoffs’ sake

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan started it. The 49ers’ latest loss wasn’t an hour old when their coach boldly let his intentions known.

“I still know we’ve got a chance to at least get in that tournament at the end of the year,” Shanahan said after a 37-14 defeat to the Green Bay Packers.

Playoffs?! Technically, the 49ers indeed still have a NFC title to defend, even if they’re just 4-5 and limping Sunday into New Orleans on Sunday in a do-or-yep-they’re-dead game.

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey has his coach’s back.

“Everyone wants to say the Niners have dealt with all this kind of crap all year,” McGlinchey said Wednesday, “but we’re still in position to make a run here.”

Such positive proclamations are expected from leaders. Fans, however, are increasingly skeptical. They’re fed up with the injuries, the losses, the poor play and the hype (ahem, guilty!) for what was once billed as a Super Bowl revenge tour.

Opponents are the ones avenging last year’s losses to the 49ers. Hammered the past two games by the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, the 49ers now face the NFC-leading Saints (6-2).

Lose, and that three-game skid will define the 49ers’ plummet from contention.

Win, and all that playoff hope is reignited, what with the field being expanded to at least three wild cards and possibly four if the COVID-19 pandemic cancels enough games.

Here are three matchups the 49ers must win to, well, win in the Superdome:

1. Fred Warner vs. Alvin Kamara

Each week, we’re expecting Warner to rescue a defense that long ago kissed goodbye to its pass rush, when Nick Bosa and Dee Ford vanished in mid-September and Arik Armstead (1 1/2 sacks) couldn’t pick up their slack.

Warner and the run defense have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. True, opponents are instead thriving by completing passes deep and along the boundaries to their receivers. But Warner is having a breakout season.

He earned midseason All-Pro honors from Pro Football Focus. So did the Saints’ Alvin Kamara, who helps the Saints’ offense create every challenge imaginable. He is their leading rusher and receiver, because of, as Warner said, “his balance, his footwork. They use him in all different ways. That’s what separates  him from a lot of guys in the league. That’s what makes him so dynamic.”

Kamara had only 25 rushing yards (13 carries) and 18 receiving yards (four catches) as the Saints went elsewhere in last year’s shootout, a 48-46 thriller the 49ers won in New Orleans. Repeating that is vital, to simply take away New Orleans’ best offensive threat.

2. Niners secondary vs. history

The 49ers’ cornerbacks haven’t had awful coverage, just awful results, with scarce takeaways. They’ve made DeAndre Hopkins (151 yards; Arizona Cardinals), D.K. Metcalf (161 yards; Seattle Seahawks) and Davante Adams (173 yards; Green Bay Packers) look as great as they are.

Michael Thomas is still searching for his first 100-yard game this season for the Saints – he was inactive six straight before returning in last Sunday’s rout of Tampa Bay.

New Orleans also has last …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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