How to pressure Brees? Pick your poison

SAN FRANCISCO -- The best defenses can harass opposing quarterbacks without sending additional rushers.

The 49ers have done a pretty good job of it this season.

They have sent four or fewer rushers on 80.9 percent of opposing quarterbacks' dropbacks, the second-highest figure in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

I would not expect a significant shift in philosophy when the 49ers face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in their divisional playoff game Saturday. We should note, however, that Brees has been even better against four or fewer rushers than when teams gamble by sending added pressure. There could be a temptation to send extra rushers if Brees fares well against the standard pressure San Francisco has preferred this season.

The first chart compares the 49ers' regular-season defensive stats to Brees' passing numbers when sending no more than four pass-rushers. Brees leads the NFL in completion percentage, yards, touchdowns and total QBR against four or fewer. He completed 32 of 39 passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns in these situations against Detroit in the wild-card round.

Not that Brees is any slouch against five or more rushers. He ranks second in completion percentage, fifth in yards, fourth in touchdowns and third in QBR against five-plus rushers. The number of opposing rushers hasn't seemed to faze him much. It's been a pick-your-poison situation for opposing defenses.

I'm expecting the Saints to favor heavier personnel groupings, with an emphasis on hitting big plays against the 49ers' base defense.

The ability to get pressure up the middle is always important. It's arguably more important against Brees because he's so comfortable and effective when stepping up in the pocket against outside pressure.

We're about six hours away from kickoff as this item is posting. Someone please hit fast-forward. Really looking forward to this matchup.

I'll be heading to Candlestick Park shortly.