Saints well aware of Vernon Davis threat

METAIRIE, La. – It’s pretty obvious to the New Orleans Saints that tight end Vernon Davis is the weapon they have to be most concerned about in the San Francisco 49ers passing offense.

For one thing, Davis has caught seven of the 49ers’ nine touchdown passes this year. ESPN 49ers reporter Bill Williamson pointed out some remarkable numbers earlier this week about how much more effective San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been with Davis in the lineup than without. Davis missed a game in Week 3 and missed the second half of last week’s 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers with a concussion. But he’s expected to return this Sunday against the Saints.

“He’s a tight end, but he can run faster than most receivers,” said Saints linebacker Parys Haralson, who was traded this summer from the 49ers. “So he’s one of those guys that he’s a matchup nightmare."

More important than any statistics and scouting reports, however, is the Saints’ own personal experience. Davis destroyed them in a 2011 playoff performance that will live forever in the nightmares of the Who Dat Nation: seven catches, 180 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-32 victory for the 49ers.

“Obviously the biggest thing when you’re preparing to play him is his speed is elite,” said Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was burned by that speed a couple times in that playoff game, along with fellow safety Roman Harper. “The biggest thing is you can’t let him get the deep ball. Make him earn everything underneath.

“And that’s with any big-time receiver. You know, you’re not mad if they get a 5-yard hitch or a dig here and there.”

Davis is hardly unstoppable, though. Last year, the Saints held him without a catch in San Francisco’s 31-21 regular season victory in New Orleans. And his production has run a little hot and cold throughout his eight-year career.

But Davis has been having one of those “hot” seasons this year, with 30 catches for 520 yards and seven touchdowns. And he has been especially important to San Francisco’s offense with top receiver Michael Crabtree sidelined by an Achilles injury.