Behind Enemy Lines: 49ers-Saints Part II

Our experts, Craig Massei of SF Illustrated and Matthew Postins of, go Behind Enemy Lines to take a closer look at Sunday's Week 4 matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints. Let's continue this three-part series with five questions from Craig to Matthew.

Craig Massei: My gosh, it sure doesn't look like the absence of top receiver Marques Colston has hurt the New Orleans offense much, particularly the high-powered passing game. But how will losing starting tight end Jeremy Shockey and starting left guard Jamar Nesbit affect the attack, particularly with those losses coming as a double-whammy in the same week? And just what exactly is the deal with Nesbit's suspension? Have the circumstances of Nesbit's departure been unsettling in the locker room in any way?

Matthew Postins: It's hard to believe the Saints offense won't suffer somewhat without Shockey, but RB Reggie Bush is the team's leading receiver through three games, which tells me the Saints aren't stretching the field much without Colston. But they're still scoring. But with no consistent running game the Saints are one-dimensional, and the suspension of Nesbit, I would say that QB Drew Brees should be flinging it at least 40 times on Sunday. As for Nesbit, it appears to be related to performance-enhancing drugs. It's a big blow to the Saints run game and will pave the way for rookie G Carl Nicks to get some playing time the next four weeks.

Craig Massei: The Saints don't appear to be too far away from being a 3-0 team instead of an apparently struggling 1-2 unit. Is that perception accurate? Are the Saints better than their record? The obvious culprit appears to be a 28th-ranked defense, but what have been the main things responsible for the team's slow start?

Matthew Postins: Well, the Saints are putting up enough offense, that's for sure. Injuries have sapped the defense dry. There's been little depth the past two weeks, and the Saints started three rookies against Washington two weeks ago. Until the unit gets healthy, the offense is going to have to continue to put up points. They won't be 100 percent this weekend.

Craig Massei: That said, is the defense good enough this year to make the Saints winners again, or is New Orleans looking at a bunch of wild shootouts this season? What has the defense done to improve over last year's 26th-place finish in the NFL rankings? In what area is that unit strong and in what area can it be taken advantage of?

Matthew Postins: MLB Jonathan Vilma is probably their best defensive player and he's well worth the fourth-round pick the Saints gave up. The pass rush is a bit better, but the secondary is still leaky. Look for the shootouts to continue. The Saints are just unable to stop much right now.

Craig Massei: Talk a bit about the two top dogs on offense, Drew Brees and Reggie Bush. Is Brees just about as good a quarterback as there is today in the NFL when you get past the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys? How is he coming along now in his third season in Sean Payton's system? And is Bush – boy, he sure has looked explosive so far – ascending to the status of being one of the NFL's most lethal offensive weapons? Or does he still have some fumbleitis problems and difficulty running between the tackles? Is he a better running back or a better receiver?

Matthew Postins: Have you seen Brees' numbers? He's in the Top 5 in quarterbacks in the NFL in my opinion, statistically and in the intangibles. What keeps people from noticing is that he's, well, in New Orleans. But he's up there with the best, that's for sure. As for Bush, he's producing well, if you take his entire game into account – rushing, receiving and returning. But he's not a consistent threat running the football. He doesn't run between the tackles. I think the Saints should convert him to a wide receiver full time, but they lack the depth and talent at the position to do so. He's still lethal, but he scares no one when he lines up seven yards behind the line of scrimmage because they know he's going outside.

Craig Massei: This is the best San Francisco team the Saints have faced since Payton took control of the operation down there. But you guys have blown out the 49ers 34-10 and 31-10 the past two years. This year's game should be much closer, but what do the 49ers have to do to close that big gap? Give me a scenario in which San Francisco can end the domination, and also make a case for why the Saints will make it three wins in three years over their former NFC West rivals.

Matthew Postins: The case for the 49ers? They're catching the Saints offense banged up and they have good corners that can lock down on receivers that aren't nearly as talented as Marques Colston. The case against? QB J.T. O'Sullivan is still young and able to rattle, and the Saints are producing a better rush than in the past. I personally think the 49ers will win, but you're right. It will be close.

Craig Massei covers the 49ers for

Matthew Postins covers the Saints for

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