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INTERVIEW
New Orleans sports writer offers insight into Saints
Saints are very good, he says, but they're still vulnerable

As part of our coverage of the upcoming divisional playoff game between the 49ers and Saints, The Press Democrat posed questions to Mike Triplett of The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Here are five questions and answers about the Saints plus a bonus question.

PRESS DEMOCRAT: The Saints beat the Niners at Candlestick 25-22 in September, 2010. Are the Saints a better team now? How much better do Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham make them?

TRIPLETT: The Saints have mostly the same players, coaches and philosophy. But clearly they're playing much better right now. They're absolutely locked in on offense, playing as well as they have during any stretch in the Brees-Payton era — and that's saying something.

It's not just Brees, either, but the terrific offensive line and underrated run game as well. And, yes, Sproles and Graham have emerged as two of their three most dynamic playmakers, along with receiver Marques Colston. They are definitely upgrades over Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey, whom the Saints had in 2010. This team is really, really hard to defend because it's so deep and versatile.

The Saints were far from locked in on that night at S.F. Brees threw for only 254, and the Saints ran for only 50 yards. I expect them to be much more in sync this time around, but I do think the combination of that swirling wind and that outstanding 49ers defense will cause them more problems than anything they faced all year.

As for the Saints' defense, it's about the same as it was in Week 2 last year and every week since. They have a lot of experienced, battle-tested players. They play very well over long stretches and force a lot of punts and field goals. But they also give up a handful of big plays every week without forcing enough turnovers. They let the 49ers hang around in that game last year even when Alex Smith wasn't playing with the confidence he is now. They need to be better this time around.”

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