How much are the 49ers talking about the Saints bounty scandal, which hit the NFL like a tidal wave this offseason, as they prepare to fly to New Orleans this afternoon?
There's been barely a peep in Santa Clara due to team's own quarterback drama and the fact that the central villain in the bounty affair, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, won't be on the sideline Sunday. Williams left the Saints in the offseason and then was suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
"I don't think there's any resentment whatsoever," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "What was said in the past is just that -- it's the past. It's irrelevant." Tight end Vernon Davis said that the infamous speech Williams made before the teams met in the playoffs on Jan. 14, in which Williams targeted specific body parts of players like Alex Smith, Frank Fore and Michael Crabtree, never got a lot of attention from the 49ers. "It's talking," Davis said.
The 49ers were more upset with what some considered a breach in exhibition season etiquette last year when, in the first game the 49ers played in the Jim Harbaugh era, Williams blitzed their still-jelling offensive line mercilessly and ended up sacking Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick six times total.
It was the first game Kaepernick, who is likely to start in New Orleans on Sunday, played in the NFL. Kaepernick was 9-19 for 117 yards and threw two interceptions. The 49ers managed only three points that night. "Bad memories," Kaepernick said of his recollection. "It was an all-out fest when we played them last time. Hopefully we'll have a better performance."
In Williams' place on Sunday will be familiar foe, Steve Spagnuolo, who coached the Rams for the last three seasons. That means the 49ers, who will visit St. Louis on Dec. 2, will have watched Rams footage in three of four weeks by the time that game arrives.
"It's a little bit of a hybrid," Roman said of the Saints defense under Spagnuolo. "They've kept some of what they did last year and then they've combined it with what some of what the Rams have done. It's very multiple. It's a lot of different looks, and they've gotten better as the year went on. They've got really good players."
The 49ers took their revenge on Williams and the Saints in the divisional title game, particularly because Smith was able to take advantage of Williams' blitzes and connect with Davis at key moments. Spagnuolo has not been as aggressive as Williams, but he also will blitz heavily at times, especially if the opponent is a young quarterback.
"They might blitz 90 percent of the game, and you've got to pick it up if you want to win," said linebacker Larry Grant, who played under Spagnuolo in St. Louis. Grant said Spagnuolo's system is more complex than most and that it takes a while for a team to pick it up. Indeed, the Saints have struggled on that side of the ball this year and currently rank last in defense.
But the unit has made big plays in recent weeks - including a couple of dramatic goal-line stands - and the Saints have won five out of their last six games. "At the beginning of the year, you've got a whole new defense, a whole new coaching staff - you're definitely going to have tough times, and it showed," Grant said. "But for some reason, this is probably the hottest team in the league right now."
- Matt Barrows