2. The status of the linebackers
The New Orleans Saints made news on Tuesday by signing former Saint Manti T’eo to help the team with linebacker depth leading into the late stages of the season. This is after both A.J. Klein and Kiko Alonso suffered injuries on Thanksgiving.
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Now, we are still unclear about the status of the injuries and there is a chance that both Klein and Alonso play, which would evaporate this worry instantly. However, if those two are out alongside Alex Anzalone, who has been out nearly all season, the Saints’ defense is going to be in trouble.
We have already seen part of it exposed a bit with Marshon Lattimore out but if the linebackers are out in this game then it is not going to be pretty. The 49ers run an offense that relies on running the ball and getting tight end George Kittle involved.
Both of those things provide safety to Jimmy Garoppolo, who is a talented quarterback with a great arm that can make mistakes from time to time. The key to stopping both the run and Kittle is with solid linebacker play, which is going to be worse with the backups in.
The Saints do have one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL and it will be interesting to see if that can hold up with smart game planning and a good performance from the defensive line. However, coming up against this offensive line, the Saints are in trouble if they do not have those playmakers in the second level.
The unfortunate part about this situation is that both of these areas of weakness heading into this week play right into the 49ers’ hand, which makes this game that much more worrisome for the New Orleans Saints.