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San Francisco 49ers: Five Players to Watch vs. New Orleans Saints

Yahoo Contributor Network
COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers (6-3) have a huge task ahead them in the New Orleans Saints (7-2). After coming up short last week to the Carolina Panthers, the 49ers need to regroup and focus on getting a "W". However, that task won't come easy with the Saints' ability to light up the scoreboard.

Listed below are five players to watch for when the Red and Gold travel to the Crescent City:

Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick had a game to forget last week, throwing for a net of 46 passing yards. Although the Saints do not possess the level of talent that the Panthers have on defense, they have made improvements under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Currently, the Saints are ranked seventh in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed.

Last year Kaepernick threw for 231 yards and one touchdown in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But he won't have Michael Crabtree this time. Aside from Vernon Davis, someone must step up and help his quarterback out, because Drew Brees will certainly put pressure on the opposition to score.

After a down performance, critics have been quick to dissect Kaepernick's growth as a quarterback. More specifically, ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer stated that the young signal-caller has "plateaued" as a passer, and when defenses take away his first read, he has trouble going through his progressions.

Going up against an elite opponent in the Saints, Kaepernick has a shot to silence his skeptics; at least temporarily.

Vernon Davis

After sustaining a concussion last week, Davis appears ready to suit up Sunday. It is safe to say that the 49ers' passing game is dramatically bolstered when the Pro-Bowl tight end plays.

Analyzing the numbers, Kaepernick's QBR is 81.7 when Davis takes the field. Without him, his QBR plummets to 13.1. Davis has also accounted for 78 percent of Kaepernick's touchdown passes this year (seven touchdown receptions), which is the highest percentage in the league by a single player.

The 49ers are very fortunate to have one of their top playmakers returning. Without him, Kaepernick and the offense would have been placed in a major bind.

Frank Gore

Gore had 16 carries last week for 82 yards against Carolina. But in the second half, he only touched the ball five times. Despite the 49ers' offensive struggles combined with the Panthers' stout front-seven, he was still efficient.

Will the coaching staff remain patient with their dynamic running back? On paper at least, Gore should have some success against the Saints, as they allow opposing rushers to run for an average of five yards per carry. Taking advantage of that matchup will also keep the ball out of Brees' hands.

Tony Jerod-Eddie

With defensive end Ray McDonald likely out with a high-ankle sprain, Jerod-Eddie is in line to fill his void. The 23-year-old lineman does not have much playing experience, but when he has been called upon to step in, he has made the most of his opportunities.

However, this won't be the first time Jerod-Eddie fills in for McDonald. Back in a Week 5 matchup against the Houston Texans, McDonald suffered a biceps injury and Jerod-Eddie took over. He was effective in his pass rush, and even recorded his first-career interception.

Replacing a talent like McDonald is not easy, but the tandem of Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs has been a working formula for the defense.

Aldon Smith

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio insinuated that Smith will "play a lot this week." It's not clear just yet if he will start, but he'll undoubtedly play more than the 12 snaps that he received last week.

The Saints' offensive line has been efficient in keeping Brees clean in the pocket, surrendering just 21 sacks on the season. But with their tendency to pass early and often, Smith will get numerous chances to take down the star quarterback.

Dating back to their postseason meeting in 2011, Smith has recorded a sack in two straight games against New Orleans.

The onus is on the 49ers' front-seven to keep this game close and prevent the score from getting out of hand, as Brees and Co. are so accustomed to doing at home.

Travis Chan is a native of the Bay Area and a lifelong fan of the San Francisco 49ers.

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