San Francisco 49ers Up 17-0 Early. Game Over?

Alex Smith. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The score is 17-0 early in the second quarter of the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints, which in and of itself is not shocking. What is shocking is that the Niners are the team on top.

Quite simply, the play of the 49ers defense is better than the offensive game-planning by the Saints offense. New Orleans came out with a plan to throw the ball quickly to underneath targets, taking what the 49ers defense — which rarely blitzes and is able to drop 7 in coverage regularly — leaves open. And that dink-and-dunk plan worked until the Saints got inside the 49ers’ 10 yard line, when a vicious hit by CB Donte Whitner separated Pierre Thomas from his senses, and the ball.

Where the Saints gameplan might have allowed for a tackle and a new down, the 49ers have been delivering brutal hits and confidence-shaking violence. Hits by Whitner took Thomas and Jimmy Graham out of the game, though Graham would later return.

By taking the short passing game away, the Niners invited Drew Brees to take shots downfield, which the Saints quarterback is more than happy to do. But effective pressure – especially from the tag team of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith on the left side of the OL – has helped rush throws and force mistakes, which led to a pair of short-field scores.

Meanwhile, Alex Smith and Vernon Davis have been taking advantage of the Saints’ deficiencies at safety, particulary Roman Harper’s inability to cover freakish athletes like Davis and Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley. Likewise, Frank Gore’s ability to quickly identify running lanes has defused Gregg Williams’ blitz calls.

We may have a blowout in the making, but it wasn’t the one anyone might have expected.

Editor’s note: In the time it took to publish this story, the Saints scored twice to make the score 17-14. I suppose that answers our rhetorical question…