The Fleur-De-Lis Report: The Saints must rely on their young talent to have any chance at the red hot 49ers
The New Orleans Saints (4-7) are back on the road this week taking on the San Francisco 49ers (6-4). For the Saints, this could very well be the toughest opponent they face all season. The 49ers have proven to be one of the best teams in pro football, loaded with top tier talent on both sides of the ball. But despite being heavy underdogs today, the Saints’ young talent perhaps gives them a puncher's chance to pull off a stunning upset.
OBSERVATIONS OF THE WEEK
Over the last several weeks, the Saints were trending in the wrong direction when it came to health. However, this week’s injury report was a much more encouraging sign. Cam Jordan is back in the starting lineup this week after missing his first career game due to an eye injury. Alvin Kamara was also featured on the injury report with an illness but is expected to play today as well. Several other key players who missed time returned this week. Marcus Davenport (calf), James Hurst (concussion), Andrus Peat (triceps), Ryan Ramczyk (rest/knee), Mark Ingram (ankle), and most importantly Marshon Lattimore (abdomen) returned and were all limited for much of week.
Lattimore returning to practice is perhaps the best news because the Saints are close to getting an All-Pro cornerback (CB) back in the lineup. Lattimore missed six total games since bruising his kidney back in week 5 against the Seahawks. The Saints are being cautious with him and sources say he isn’t ready to fully return to action this week. As of now, he’s participating in practice and testing the waters before he's ready to commit to full gameday activation. Along with Lattimore, veteran CB Bradley Roby is back from injury reserve (IR). Roby missed the required four game minimum and is considered questionable to play against the 49ers.
Also in the news, rookie first rounder Trevor Penning was cleared from IR this week possibly opening the door for his season debut. The 19th overall selection in this past draft suffered a turf toe injury during the final preseason game that's kept him out all year so far. Penning had been on track to return for some time now after participating in practices in very limited roles but now sources say there’s hope he’ll be active for today. As of now, he remains a likely game-time decision.
Payton Turner (ankle), Pete Werner (ankle), and JT Gray (hamstring) all remain out for today’s game but needless to say this was a great week for the Saints in the health department.
PREVIEWING THE 49ERS
As I stated in the open, San Francisco is probably the toughest opponent the Saints have faced so far this season and I’m tempted to say they are the toughest opponent they’ll face going forward. This is a terrible matchup for New Orleans as much of the Saints’ weaknesses play right into the 49ers’ strengths.
For starters, the Niners are one of the best rushing teams in football under Kyle Shanahan’s system. Leading the San Fran backfield is someone the Saints know all too well, former Carolina Panther Christian McCaffrey. Since being traded to the Bay Area, McCaffrey hasn’t stuffed the stat sheet as much as he’s done in year’s past. In fact, he isn’t even the leading rusher on his team. But he’s healthy and provides Kyle Shanahan’s offense a versatile chess piece that has caused matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Much like Alvin Kamara, McCaffrey is a threat to run or catch the ball from the backfield and because his usage is down compared to his days in Carolina, he’s able to remain fresh for the duration of ball games.
McCaffrey isn’t the only weapon the Niners can throw at the Saints. Deebo Samuel and George Kittle are both dangerous players in their own right. When watching Deebo Samuel, I can’t help but be a little in awe of what he can do on a football field. Samuel offers a wide range of skill sets and can utilize his large frame and speed to get down field either from a wideout position or the backfield. Samuel was featured on their injury report this week dealing with a hamstring injury but sources say he is expected to play.
George Kittle is a top 3 tight end in football and is considered the security blanket for quarterback Jimmy Garappolo. Kittle wrecks defenses with his size, speed, route running, and willingness to block in the run game.
Defensively, they're simply are the best defense in football that features both Nick Bosa and Fred Warner, two players in the upper echelon of their respective positions. San Francisco currently rank 1st in total yards allowed, 6th in passing yards allowed, 1st in rushing yards allowed, and 2nd in points allowed.
Jimmy Garappolo has been decent this year stepping in for the injured Trey Lance. Last week against what’s left of Arizona, he had his best game of the season with 228 yards, 4 TDs, and no INTs. Overall this year, he’s thrown for 2159 yards, 15 TDs, and 4 INTs which is more than enough to keep the ship afloat especially with the plethora of firepower at his disposal. Although despite his recent success, history tells us he is due for a meltdown game so maybe the Saints can get to him early and often and take him out of his game.
For the Saints, hardly anyone is giving them much of a chance in this one. It’s hard for me to imagine them slowing down the Niners’ rushing attack after struggling to contain the run all season. But I do give the Saints a puncher’s chance to pull off the upset based on what I’ve seen from the team’s younger players. Chris Olave is the clear WR1 for this team and has established himself as a legit threat. Last week, he strengthened his Rookie of the Year case with a 102 yard, 1 TD performance. He remains 1st among all rookie receivers in catches (51), yards (760), catches for 1st downs (34), and catches of 15+ yards (15). Along with Olave, undrafted rookie Rashid Shahid’s deep speed must be respected by any defense and Juwan Johnson provides Andy Dalton a big target from the tight end spot especially in redzone situations. Defensively, Alontae Taylor and Paulson Adebo have both had good productive seasons especially in the absences of Lattimore and Roby. And linebacker Kaden Ellis stepped up nicely last week in Pete Werner’s absence. Winning today is a long shot but given what the young guys have accomplished already, there’s still a shot.
Kickoff is at 3:25pm.
The San Francisco 49ers are 9 point favorites to win this game. I was actually surprised it's not higher. The Niners are a great football team who I believe will be one of the final four standing competing for a spot in the Super Bowl. Ultimately, the mountain is too high for this Saints team to overcome especially against such an elite opponent. I have them losing 38-17.
However, if the Saints can somehow pull off the upset, they could possibly set up an important Monday Night matchup against the Buccaneers. Winning places them back on course in competing for the division. Granted, some things still have to go the their way like the Bucs and Falcons losing this week, but all New Orleans can do is take care of what they can control.
Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter @Chris_Lunkin98 for weekly content and up to the minute updates on your New Orleans Saints.
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