METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' defense might finally get its first crack at a team that runs a decent amount of read-option offense Sunday when the Saints (7-2) host the San Francisco 49ers (6-3).
Or maybe not.
Even the 49ers and dynamic quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- who were among the pioneers of the read-option revolution in the NFL last year -- have barely been using it this season as it's faded away a bit throughout the league.
“No, they’ve just got (running back Frank) Gore, so they just keep pounding. They gore you with Gore,” Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.
Still, the Saints will certainly be prepared to face some read-option this week, just in case. The 49ers obviously have that scheme in their arsenal, and they have still rolled it out from time to time when they see an opening in opposing defenses.
It’s hard to guess whether the 49ers will see that opening in the Saints’ defense. The Saints have only faced the read-option this year for a total of 10 snaps or less.
One thing is certain, though: The Saints’ overall run defense has been too inconsistent for their taste in recent weeks, most notably in a 26-20 loss to the Jets. So one way or another, the 49ers will test New Orleans’ run defense with both Gore and Kaepernick.
“I guess we’ll find out, huh?” Ryan said, when asked if the Saints are ready for the scheme that they studied and practiced quite a bit during the offseason. “We spent a lot of good time on it, I think probably the entire league has. ... We’ve been pretty good on it, and at times we weren’t as good as we need to be, so we’ll have to be on point this week, for sure.”
The Saints were prepared to face the read-option in Week 8 against Buffalo. And they saw it on the very first snap. But when Bills quarterback Thad Lewis faked a handoff, then came running around the left end of the line, got clobbered by linebacker David Hawthorne, fumbled the ball away and suffered a rib injury.
“You know, the kid from Buffalo pulled one out and got blasted,” Ryan said. “So we’ll just see how it goes. This is something that everybody prepared for and something we certainly worked on in practice also.”
Ryan said the 49ers’ biggest threat is how well they use a variety of schemes to run the ball -- shifting blockers to keep defenses off balance.
And the Saints praised Gore at length in this week's installment of Know the Enemy. They’ll certainly be wary of Kaepernick, too, as both a runner and a passer.
Kaepernick is capable of breaking off big gains on both designed runs and scrambles away from pressure. And though he has drawn growing criticism for his performance as a passer this year (186 yards per game, nine touchdowns and six interceptions), he has a big arm which allows him to turn a broken play into a big gain.
“Have you seen him? I think he’s a dad-gum good quarterback,” said Saints linebacker Parys Haralson, who was traded from the 49ers to the Saints during the preseason. “He’s a really good quarterback. He moves around, he creates, he can buy time, he has a strong arm. So I think he’s one of those quarterbacks you have to go in there and try to get pressure on him.
“There’s so many ways they can beat you. … It’s one of those things where you’ve got to be honed in and everybody’s doing their job and taking care of their responsibility.”