As Saints continued momentum, 49ers sharpened themselves

January 9, 2012, 2:51 pm
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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers did not put on full pads during their two days of practices late last week, but the tempo was close to game speed.That's because there was pride at stake with the first-team offense going up against the starting defense."It's like a game-type of environment on the practice field," 49ers safety Dashon Goldson said. "It's like a real battle out there."
Before the New Orleans Saints could earn the right to face the 49ers, they had to get past the Detroit Lions. Before the 49ers begin this week in preparation for the Saints, they faced off a couple of times in practices against each other.And that has not been out of the ordinary in recent weeks. When the 49ers' offense sputtered during a six-game stretch in which they scored touchdowns on just 3 of 18 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line, coach Jim Harbaugh enacted a change in the practice schedule.The struggling 49ers' offense went against the team's first-team defense in red-zone drills. The offense seemed to benefit from the work, finishing the regular season with six touchdowns in their final nine trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line."Our scout team has been amazing, but it helps to get full-speed reps in the red zone," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. "It was full-speed coverage, full-speed rushes and full-speed blitzes. Any time you get that, it's beneficial."RELATED: It's 49ers vs. 49ers in bye week practices in Santa Clara
Said tight end Justin Peelle, "It's faster out there. It's a faster look, and we didn't know what we'd be getting, so it forced us to adjust and that's something you need to be able to do. The coaches point was made that we weren't doing very well in the red zone. Then, we were able to start putting the ball in the end zone instead of kicking field goals."Typically, once the regular season begins the starting offense and defense works against the scout team -- comprised of backups and practice-squad players who are running the anticipated plays of the opposition."Obviously, the scout team guys do so much for us," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "But just getting that game-speed tempo, especially on Fridays when we're getting the work versus the ones -- getting realistic looks, not knowing what you're going against -- just going out there and reacting, I think is great for us."The 49ers did not start game-planning for any one opponent last week during their two days of practices. On Saturday evening, the coaching staff began finalizing the game plan to face the Saints, a 45-28 winner over the Detroit Lions in the first round of the NFC playoffs.The Saints kept their momentum going with their ninth consecutive victory. The 49ers believe they kept making strides toward becoming a better team, too."Iron sharpens iron," Goldson said. "We know there are going to be some tough teams we're going to face." As the 49ers begin on-field preparations Monday to face the Saints, the only player not expected to play Saturday is tight end Delanie Walker. He is out for the game after sustaining a fractured jaw on the left side of his face in two places Dec. 24.Defensive end Ray McDonald did not practice last week due to a right hamstring strain. He strained his left hamstring in November and missed one game. This hamstring strain to his other leg is not as bad, he said. Expect him to play Saturday.The biggest Saints injury is wide receiver Lance Moore, who missed the game against the Lions with a hamstring injury of his own. During the regular season, Moore caught 52 passes for 627 yards and eight touchdowns.