The San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints are fresh off of Week 11 wins over the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams, respectively. After a short week of preparation, the 49ers will look to continue their winning streak on Sunday, but despite their record, the Saints will surely be a challenge to face.
"I don't think their numbers are quite where they usually are. A lot of that has to do with they've been missing about seven starters a number of these games, but they are as tough and physical and as sound as anyone we've played this year," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "They've lost some close games and they've had some very unfortunate injuries, but I think we have our work cut out for us, without a doubt."
According to Saints writer John DeShazier, several New Orleans players returned to practice after multiple weeks out with injuries, including cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore (abdomen, out the last six games), Bradley Roby (ankle, four games) and running back Mark Ingram (knee, three games). Also back in action are left tackle James Hurst (concussion) and defensive ends Cam Jordan (eye) and Marcus Davenport (calf).
The players returning to the New Orleans team will provide a boost to not only the Saints depth but also their team morale.
"New Orleans is a very good team, I don't have to make that up. You just have to turn the tape on and watch it, but it was a lot of energy last week, you have to be aware of that," Shanahan said. "I think we have a mature group. They understand the deal, but we are working to get our bodies back."
San Francisco is coming off a trip to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City where they earned a divisional victory against the Cardinals. Offensively, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 20 of his 29 passing attempts for 228 yards and four touchdowns, matching his career high. Much of his recent success is credit to the 49ers offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Trent Williams, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford and Aaron Banks have combined to allow zero sacks on their quarterback this season. Garoppolo also has an abundance of offensive weapons to get the ball to. In Monday night's game, tight end George Kittle caught four passes for a team-high 84 yards and two touchdowns, while wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk saw both of his catches go for touchdowns. In San Francisco's run game, "wideback" Deebo Samuel registered three carries for 37 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown run, Christian McCaffrey registered 106 scrimmage yards and Elijah Mitchell tallied nine carries for 59 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry on the night.
A matchup to look out for on Sunday is definitely in the trenches. While the 49ers sit near the top of the league in sacks allowed (tied for sixth), the Saints have notched a total of 32.0 this season, racking up at least 3.0 in their last four games and recording a high of 6.0 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10. Due to the high pressure the Saints apply on opposing quarterbacks, their defensive backs have also found success. New Orleans' pass defense has held QBs under seven yards per attempt and has only allowed a 61.2 completion percentage.
"Their defense – they look like a (New Orleans Saints head coach) Dennis Allen team," Shanahan said. "They've been, to me, one of the best defenses in the league here over the last five or six years."
On the other side of the ball, the Saints are also unique when it comes to their two-quarterback approach on offense. New Orleans' starting quarterback Andy Dalton took 40 snaps against the Rams and completed 21-of-25 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns last week. Saints tight end Taysom Hill took the other 17 snaps, completing one-of-three passes for 14 yards and rushed the ball nine times for a team-high 52 yards. One of the Saints biggest offensive threats is their dual-threat running back, Alvin Kamara, who rushed for 42 yards on 12 attempts and caught four passes for another 47 yards against Los Angeles. To top it off, wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Chris Olave and tight end Juwan Johnson all scored touchdowns in the team's Week 11 contest.
"Kamara, Taysom Hill, those two guys right there account for half their explosives, half their touchdowns," Shanahan said.
The Saints will have to work their way through a 49ers defense that has held opponents scoreless in the second half for three-straight games. In the team's Mexico City game, cornerback Charvarius Ward led the team with 10 tackles, while linebacker Fred Warner and defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Kevin Givens each registered a sack on Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy. A key to success in the 49ers matchup against the Saints will be takeaways. Last week, defensive back Jimmie Ward grabbed his first interception of the season and cornerback Samuel Womack III registered the first interception of his career.
"You can tell the team is feeling good," Shanahan said. "You can tell that they're excited and ready to go for Sunday."
Pro Bowl voting for the 2022-23 season is open. Be sure to cast your votes daily for your favorite 49ers players here.