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For the first time since 2016, the 49ers take on the Saints. And just like the years between 2011 and 2013, both teams are once again on top of the food chain in the NFC.
The Saints offense needs no introduction, but the defense does. While certainly not at the level of San Francisco’s, it’s a host to plenty of talent as well. The leader of this defense is of course 9th-year edge rusher Cameron Jordan, who’s in the middle of yet another phenomenal season. This time through 12 games he has collected 13.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and 22 quarterback hits.
To make things a little more impressive, this is not only Jordan’s third consecutive season with at least 12 sacks, but his fifth consecutive season with at least 20 QB hits. That’s not easy to do in a league where bodies are put on the line at a higher level than other American sports, and Jordan is the first to do it between 2015 and 2019.
So what’s the 30-year-old pass rusher been up to lately? Well, he’s coming off a dominant Thanksgiving display against the Falcons, where he sacked Matt Ryan four times (three of which came in the fourth quarter, two of which came on the final drive). Not to worry, as the 49ers have a significantly better offensive line than Atlanta does, so it’s unlikely Jordan will have another four-sack game.
Even so, this is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, so Jordan is not to be taken lightly. For convenience’s sack let’s go over all four sacks from the Thanksgiving game to see what kind of pass rusher the 49ers need to prepare for on the road.
Sack #1 is the least impressive one of all, as it’s essentially a coverage sack, but one thing to note here is the attention Jordan receives from the Falcons offensive line. In addition to right tackle Ty Sambrailo, he also receives the attention of running back Devonta Freeman. The coverage is excellent here, however, so the attempts to hold off this monster are futile in the end. Jordan gets the coverage sack for a loss of one.
Sack #2 is where Jordan’s skills really start coming into play. Here his stabby hands provide plenty of work for the rookie Kaleb McGary, and despite McGary’s successful attempts to block his swim move, Jordan’s quick hands still manage to spin the right tackle around. This clears a gap for Jordan to get his second sack of the night.
After the Falcons recovered an onside kick down 8 to give themselves a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, Jordan came up big with two critical time wasting sacks. This time McGary cannot block Jordan’s swim move, and Jordan moves past him with ease. One thing to note is the quick reflex Jordan possesses with the swim, as well as the extension of his right arm. This allows him to get a clear advantage in terms of outside leverage, one that McGary simply can’t recover from as Jordan picks up sack #3.
On the Falcons’ last play from scrimmage comes sack #4 for Jordan. Once again it’s against McGary, and once again it’s no contest. This time Jordan perfectly executes maybe the quickest rip move you’ll ever see, and before Matt Ryan knows it he’s devoured in the belly of the beast. This sack also happened to set a new career high for single season sacks for Jordan, putting him at 13.5 with four games left!
As far as alignment goes, expect to see Cam Jordan on the side of the right tackle a lot. In other words, Mike McGlinchy is in for a test against one of the league’s more dominant edge rushers, unless the Saints decide to line him up against the rookie Justin Skule.
The 49ers have the scheme to minimize the effect Jordan has on the day, and for the most part that’s what I expect to see even on the road. However in addition to the crowd noise Jordan’s skill set could prove too much of a burden. He’s a very versatile pass rusher in the middle of a career year, which is no small feat for his resume, and is surrounded by an impressive amount of pass rushing talent as well.
So this is a matchup where the 49ers need to be at the top of their game, especially against a top tier pass rusher.
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