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49ers know they have big challenge this week

The Sports Xchange

49ers coaches gathered at the team's Santa Clara facility Saturday night to watch the Saints-Lions wild-card game and eat pizza. They must have been daunted by what they saw.

New Orleans dropped 45 points on the Lions, Drew Brees passed for 466 yards and the Saints rolled up a NFL record 626 yards worth of offense. Strangely, the 49ers might have also been heartened by what they saw. The game was tight throughout the first half, and when the Saints blew out Detroit in the second half, most of it was because of Lions mistakes.

The 49ers compiled a 13-3 record because of their uncanny ability to avoid mistakes. Also the Saints were able to take advantage of Detroit weaknesses and those weaknesses happen to be 49ers' strengths.

For example:

--The Saints took advantage of Lions linebackers in coverage, particularly in nickel situations. But 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are two of the best coverage linebackers in the game.

--Lions middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch had trouble defending the middle of the field particularly in Detroit's two-deep coverage. The speed of Willis and Bowman allow them to close up the middle in the two-deep, which the 49ers play fairly often.

--Detroit got almost no pressure on Brees. The 49ers have a better chance of getting to Brees with their four down linemen in their nickel package. Thirty-two of the team's 44 sacks come from those four players. Brees will also have to deal with the Candlestick crowd noise, which is likely to be loud. The 49ers had 900 tickets for sale last week and they were snapped up within 30 minutes.

--The Lions continued to make coverage mistakes and dropped three interceptions. The 49ers have rarely made coverage errors this season, and their 23 interceptions is one reason they led the league with a plus-28 turnover ratio.

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