SANTA CLARA — To continue its playoff coverage, The Press Democrat sat down with a member of the current 49ers organization to break down the upcoming matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
Which member of the organization, you ask? The most observant, the most well-spoken Niner there is.
It's not a coach, though. Jim Harbaugh and his guys aren't exactly eager to talk strategy and matchups with the media.
No, it's backup defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois — the man with the largest, most interesting perspective on the team.
He's patient and thoughtful like an offensive lineman, and he was eager to answer questions about Saturday's key matchups.
Here's what he said.
And for your enjoyment, keep in mind while you read that Jean Francois sounds like a southern James Earl Jones.
What can you guys do to slow down Drew Brees?
Drew Brees had a tremendous season, so I've got to say congratulations on that one. But to slow him down you've got to get him off his mark. I've seen him on film — once he drops back on that third step, that ball's getting out of his hand. He's got (Darren) Sproles in his backfield and he knows how to use him. He's basically a master of his own offense.
Will the fact that you've faced Kendall Hunter in practice all year help the defense prepare for Sproles?
Yeah. It's kind of hard to see him, so it's going to be the same thing — it's hard to see Sproles. You're about to see the same type of back — hides out everywhere, swings out of the backfield, use him as a receiver. Yeah, Kendall will be a good look to use this week (in practice).
How much of a matchup problem are Sproles and Jimmy Graham specifically for your defense?
Graham — he's probably both the best tight end and the best receiver we're going to play this season, and Sproles, I can say (Rashard) Mendenhall is probably one of the closest dudes to him that we've played, but Sproles might be a little faster.
But matchup problems? I don't think (defensive coordinator) Vic (Fangio) will have no problems. He's got plays — all he's got to do is just install them. All we've got to do is read our keys. It shouldn't be a problem for Pat (Willis) or NaVorro (Bowman) or Carlos (Rogers) or none of them to matchup. A lot of people are going to look at it as a matchup problem, but once Vic starts calling the plays and we start getting a feel of what they're trying to do, it shouldn't be no matchup problem.
Is it fair to say Patrick Willis will match up with Jimmy Graham primarily? He's matched up with tight ends throughout the season for Fangio.
Pat's got DB skills. We laugh about it all the time — we see him out there one-on-one with people, he's got his little set. But Pat out there in that matchup one-on-one? I've got my confidence in Pat. There's no chance I'd doubt him.
And then with Sproles would it be fair to say that Bowman would match up with him for the most part? He's shadowed LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and Michael Vick in the past.