NFL: 49ers-Saints preview

The Examiner breaks down the 49ers-Saints game, including what it will take to win, the matchups, a word about the coaches, our humble predictions and broadcast information.

THREE KEYS TO A VICTORY

1. This game is crucial between two former NFC West foes. Both the Niners and the New Orleans Saints are 2-4 and must catch fire fast if they want any shot at a playoff berth. The Saints have won their last two after starting the season 0-4. Quarterback Drew Brees is averaging 232.5 yards and two touchdowns in the two wins while he threw nine interceptions in the four losses. So, it isn’t impossible for Nate Clements and the Niners’ secondary to get to Brees early.

2. And the starting quarterback position goes to — drumroll, please — Alex Smith. The former No. 1 overall pick is back under center after suffering a separated right shoulder in Week 4 against the Seattle Seahawks. He’s looked good in practice all week, but it remains uncertain how he will do during game action. Considering how Trent Dilfer has fared, how much worse can it possibly be?

3. Starting receiver Darrell Jackson has been bothered by a quad injury all week, meaning deep threat Ashley Lelie could get the nod. Jackson or no Jackson, we feel Lelie should be in the mix a lot more often — especially when teams are drawing up plans on how to cover him.

KEY MATCHUPS

REGGIE BUSH VS. MICHAEL LEWIS

Bush: Sophomore sensation had his breakout game vs. 49ers last season, scoring four times.

Lewis: Safety should have his hands full with Bush, Marques Colston and Lance Moore on the field.

ERIC JOHNSON VS. PATRICK WILLIS

Johnson: Former Niner can easily fly under the radar and make a couple of key grabs — and a score.

Willis: By far leads the team in tackles (63). Fellow LB Derek Smith is second with 46.

SCOTT FUJITA VS. VERNON DAVIS

Fujita: Former Cal star picked up his first sack and forced fumble last week against Falcons.

Davis: With Smith back, tight end should get plenty of looks against beatable Saints defense.

COACHES' CORNER</p>

The Niners generated 267 yards of total offense last week against the Giants, a tad above their average (203.2 going into last week). Mike Nolan should expect even more at home — especially with Smith back.

The Saints’ Sean Payton has had the misfortune of getting off to a rough start, as well as losing running back Deuce McAllister for the season. But if his team can win its third straight, it would be a great confidence booster.

THE EXAMINER PREDICTS …

This should be an interesting game between a struggling offense (the Niners) and an offense that can break out at any moment (the Saints). All Alex Smith’s return means is that the Niners won’t be blown out at home. SAINTS 20, 49ERS 17

Saints at 49ers

Sunday, 1:15 p.m.

TV: KTVU (Ch. 2)

Radio: KNBR (680 AM)

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