Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Coming off their second loss of the season, things don’t get any easier for the 49ers. After a short stay in Florida the team will invade the Big Easy for a Week 13 match-up with the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints. While the Saints aren’t classic rivals like the Cowboys or Seahawks, the two teams were old NFC West division rivals in the 1980s and seemed to butt heads during the Harbaugh years, culminating in their classic 2012 divisional playoff game, a game that many fans and players alike have said ranks among the best of all time. While this game may not reach that emotional peak, the stakes are still high. What match-ups will tilt the victory?
Nick Bosa vs. Terron Armstead
Armstead returned to practice Wednesday after missing the last two weeks with a high ankle sprain. He’s protected Drew Brees’ blindside since 2014, and last season he was voted to his first Pro Bowl and made second-team All-Pro. This very well could be a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Armstead has played 472 pass blocking snaps this season and has allowed only 15 pressures, six hits, and zero sacks. 49ers rookie Nick Bosa, on the other hand, has been better than expected, in 322 pass rush snaps Bosa has nine sacks, 37 hurries and 55 pressures. We’ve seen what Bosa has done to established tackles already this season, using his unique combination of size and speed with veteran type pass rush moves, Bosa should be able to get around Armstead to pressure Brees. Will Armstead be limited in his first game back? That’s a question that the Saints will have to ask themselves before putting their franchise tackle back on the field, also working against Armstead is the fact that his usual left guard, Andrus Peat, will miss the game with a fractured forearm.
Manti Te’o vs. Matt Breida/Raheem Mostert
You absolutely read that right. Following an injury to perennially overrated linebacker Kiko Alonso and fellow linebacker A.J. Klein, the Saints lacked depth on the second level and brought back free agent Te’o. His status for Sunday is in doubt, but considering the Saints felt desperate enough to sign the lackluster free agent, he may see the field just out of necessity. In Sunday’s loss to the Ravens the 49ers finally got their running game back on track. Mostert saw a career high in carries (19) and yards (146) while breaking off a 40-yard touchdown, and he finished the game as the 49ers’ second-leading rusher this season with 539 yards, trailing only Breida with 542. Breida and Mostert both have the speed to turn the corner on the outside zone and reach the second level when running between the tackles. With Te’o likely seeing his first game action of the season, that’s a lot of speed to catch up to. New Orleans as a team are allowing only 88.6 yards rushing a game while the 49ers average 148.
Drew Brees vs. 49ers’ Secondary
Drew Brees is a first ballot Hall of Famer and probably an all-time top-10 quarterback. That’s not to say he isn’t beatable. Across from Brees on Sunday will be the NFL’s top-rated pass defense. The 49ers have allowed 134.2 yards per game through the air in 2019. Earlier this season they had a three-game stretch in which they didn’t allow the opposing quarterback to throw for 100 net yards, and two weeks ago they held another Hall of Fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers to only 106 yards. The 49ers’ secondary has been historically good this season, couple that with a pass rush that’s expected to have Dee Ford back, plus injuries on New Orleans’ offensive line, and Brees should have a tough day on Sunday.
Sunday’s game seems like one where the 49ers can get back into the win column. They played well on both sides of the ball last week but couldn’t pull out the win. I expect this Sunday to be different. I also believe the 49ers will win out to finish 2019, and that all starts on Sunday.
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