Justin Smith knows a thing or two about stepping into the B-gap and swatting down passes. The 49ers' defensive end did just that in the final seconds of a win over the Giants in Week 10 as Eli Manning was attempting a potentially game-winning pass on fourth down. Smith said that getting into Drew Brees' - at 6-feet, he's one of the shortest starters in the league -- throwing lanes is one of the keys to disrupting the Saints offense.
Said Smith: "He's just a really smart guy the way he attacks the pass rush. He knows where those B-gap windows are going to be and he baits the outside rushers by dropping back and then he steps up and slides to where he needs to be for his open receivers."
One of the teams that provided a template for beating the Saints was the two-win Rams, who harassed Brees into two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, during a one of St. Louis' wins this season. The Rams sacked Brees six times and registered nine hits on the quarterback.
That makes the matchup between the Saints' two all-pro guards -- Jahri Evans and 2008 draft crush Carl Nicks -- and Smith and Ray McDonald one of the more intriguing one of the game. Others to watch are left tackle Jermon Bushrod against Aldon Smith and right tackle Zach Strief against Ahmad Brooks.
"After that game they really went to max (protection) - let's keep Drew clean so he can run the offense," Smith said of the reaction to the Rams' loss. "We're going to have to overcome that. We're going to have to make sure we still get pressure without committing to the blitz a whole lot. To me, that's the key to the game defensively."
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said something clicked Vernon Davis as far as the tight end's comfort level with the offense last month. "I started to notice it five weeks ago," Roman said today, "and he's gotten better every week since."
Indeed, Davis' statistics bear that out. He's been more involved in the passing game in recent weeks, including his season-high 118 yards in Week 17 against the Rams.
Roman said Penn State's interest in him was unexpected. "It came out of nowhere," he said. "I was sitting at my desk one day and the phone rang."
The Nittany Lions, of course, ultimately chose Bill O'Brien as the successor. Roman said the job search never became a distraction and that he didn't travel to Pennsylvania for the interview.
The 49ers may have drafted Colin Jones as a safety, but he's been a wide receiver the last two weeks. The team brought Jones to the offensive side of the ball before Week 17 after Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams were slowed by injuries.
Williams and Ginn are back, but Jones has concentrated only on offense this week. The speedy Jones, who was in on one offensive play against St. Louis, said he played running back and receiver in high school and was recruited as a running back by TCU.
"I never saw a day of that," said Jones, who was quickly switched to defense. "It seemed to work out for me, so I'm not complaining."
-- Matt Barrows