49ers’ defense aiming for Brees

NFC Championship game

 

One of the ways the 49ers will try to slow down
Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense: block his view.

At 6-foot-0, Brees is one of the shortest
quarterbacks in the league. He’s overcome his low profile, however,
with great awareness of where everyone is on the field, and
according to 49ers defensive end Justin Smith, where the open gaps
are along the line of scrimmage.

One of the ways the 49ers will try to slow down
Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense: block his view.

At 6-foot-0, Brees is one of the shortest
quarterbacks in the league. He’s overcome his low profile, however,
with great awareness of where everyone is on the field, and
according to 49ers defensive end Justin Smith, where the open gaps
are along the line of scrimmage.

“He’s just a really smart guy the way he attacks
the pass rush,” Smith said Wednesday. “He knows where those B-gap
windows are going to be and he baits the outside rushers by
dropping back and then he steps up and slides to where he needs to
be for his open receivers.”

Clogging the B-gap is something Smith has done
well this season. He did just that when he batted down an Eli
Manning pass in the final seconds of a Week 10 game against the
Giants to preserve a 27-20 victory. He and his fellow linemen must
try to do the same against Brees, who set the single-season record
for passing yards in Week 16.

An unlikely source – the two-win St. Louis Rams
– provided perhaps the best template for beating New Orleans.

The Rams defense harassed Brees into throwing
two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, during St. Louis’
surprise 31-21 win in Week 8.

The Rams sacked Brees six times and registered
nine hits on the quarterback.

The matchup between Smith and Saints left guard
Carl Nicks – two All–Pro linemen – promises to be one of the most
intriguing battles on Saturday.

Meanwhile, fellow defensive end Ray McDonald
will spend a lot of time going against another All-Pro, right guard
Jahri Evans.

“After that game they really went to max
(protection) – let’s keep Drew clean so he can run the offense,”
Smith said of the reaction to the Rams’ loss. “We’re going to have
to overcome that. We’re going to have to make sure we still get
pressure without committing to the blitz a whole lot. To me, that’s
the key to the game defensively.”

Davis surges – Something clicked with Vernon
Davis five weeks ago, offensive coordinator Greg Roman said
Wednesday, and the tight end has been more comfortable – and more
productive – since.

Davis made several nice catches in the 49ers’
Week 16 win over Seattle, and he followed that with a 118-yard
effort, Davis’ best of the year, in the finale against the
Rams.

Davis said he agreed with Roman’s timeline.

“When I first got in this offense it was almost
like I wanted to quit, like, ‘This is too much,’” he said. “It was
too much information at one time that they were throwing on me and
Delanie (Walker) and the rest of the tight ends, but we stuck with
it, we learned as much as we possibly could and here we are. We’re
getting better and better each and every week.”

Did Roman and the coaches pull back a bit, Davis
was asked?

“No,” he said with a laugh, “They just keep
adding.”

Et cetera – McDonald (hamstring) returned to
practice Wednesday after missing the past three sessions. McDonald
was listed as limited on the team’s participation report.

The other players listed as limited: cornerback
Chris Culliver (knee), receiver Ted Ginn (ankle), and receiver Kyle
Williams (concussion). Tight end Delanie Walker (jaw) is the only
49er who did not practice.

The 49ers signed long-snapper Kyle Nelson to a
two-year contract that will kick in when the league’s new year
begins in March. Nelson, who went undrafted out of New Mexico
State, spent time with the Saints and Chiefs this season and is
expected to apprentice under veteran long-snapper Brian Jennings
next season.

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