The 49ers have a lot of young talent who are just getting their shot in the NFL. Playing in an NFL game can be high pressure, especially in the playoffs. Playing a Saints team who has been to the big show before means it is even more important that these young players don't let the pressure get to them, for they will play vital roles in the 49ers first playoff game since the 2002 season.
NaVorro Bowman(2nd year MLB)
Bowman was voted to the Associated Press All Pro team in his first ever season as a starter. He is 7th in the NFL with 143 combined tackles. He is about the same build as Willis, one inch shorter, and has very similar game speed as Willis has. Bowman has been tasked with covering running backs regularly and has held quick and fast players (McCoy, Vick, Mendenhall, Best, Rice, Jackson) to short gains when met in the open field. He has great instincts and will be a major tool in the upcoming game. Saints have a versatile backfield that includes agility and tenacity (Sproles and Thomas). Bowman will be key in stopping these players in run situations but also in the short dump off passes that Brees was forced into during the last meeting between these teams.
Aldon Smith(Rookie OLB/DE)
Aldon Smith was the leading sack man for the 49ers. His 14 sacks was just half a sack short of the rookie record set by DE Jevon Kearse. Smith has been used almost exclusively as a pass rusher. His combination of strength and speed will be vital in exploiting the weaknesses in the Saints offensive line. Aldon Smith normally play over the left tackle normally but he will see plenty of snaps across from right tackle Zack Strief who has been susceptible to speed rushers. More than likely, his presence on the field will command a double team. If it does, that will free up the other lineman for a shot at the QB and if it doesn't, Brees will learn firsthand the strength and power of this young stud.
Bruce Miller(Rookie FB)
Miller is playing fullback for the first time in his career. He has a hunger for contact and has the audacity to make two or three blocks on players who are not ready for a very physical collision. Miller will be the lead blocker for Gore and Hunter on most of the runs and he has athleticism most fullbacks don't have. He has been able to line up at the tight end position in the absence of Delanie walker. He is also a capable receiving outlet out of the backfield and runs through players with no regard for their well being.
Kyle Williams(2nd year WR)
Williams had only one reception his rookie season but has been thrust into a prominent role due to the injury to Josh Morgan and the unexpected departure of Braylon Edwards. Williams has quality hands that rivals that of Josh Morgan and runs almost as fast as Teddy Ginn. He will see most of his action lined up in the slot which means he should see coverage against Robinson when the Saints play man to man. This is the match-up that has the greatest potential for big plays down the field due to the high chance of double teams on teammates Crabtree and Davis.
Chris Culliver(Rookie CB)
Culliver has done a fine job in his transformation from college safety to NFL cornerback. He plays as the 3rd corner and will see extensive time on the field with the way the Saints like to spread the field. Culliver has been an asset against the run. He is great in zone and has done fairly well in man coverage however, he struggles against fast receivers who change direction quickly. He will have his hands full defending Robert Meachem who has been stretching defenses all season. He will need safety help to keep him in check.
Kendall Hunter(Rookie HB)
Hunter has been a great change of pace back for the 49ers. Hunter will be needed to give Gore some time to rest in a game that looks to be very physical. His most useful talent is running in open space. Expect the 49ers to utilize him in Screen passes and swing passes will serve as extended hand offs and allow Hunter to make plays in the open field that will compliment the power running style of Gore. Hunter has been improving in pass blocking but needs to be on the top of his game in blitz pickup for the aggressive style of the Saints defense.
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