Five 49ers players to watch in Sunday's game vs. Saints

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Matt Maiocco breaks down the five players to watch in the 49ers' Week 10 battle with the New Orleans Saints.

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The 49ers are just trying to hold on through this weekend.

Once the 49ers get beyond Sunday’s Week 10 game against the New Orleans Saints, better days promise to be in front of them.

First, the 49ers have a bye week to rest their weary bodies. Then, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Deebo Samuel, Richard Sherman and, perhaps, others will be ready to rejoin the team for the final six-game stretch, which begins Nov. 29 at the Los Angeles Rams.

But, first, this game ...

Approximately, 6,000 spectators will be allowed inside the Superdome to be the first non-working individuals to see the 49ers play a game in person during the 2020 season.

The struggling 49ers (4-5) will go up against one of the NFL’s hottest teams.

The Saints (6-2) are coming off the most-impressive all-around performance of any team in the league this season: a 38-3 shellacking of Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Here are the 49ers to watch when they take the field against the healthy-and-surging Saints:

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McGlinchey and the rest of the 49ers’ offensive line will not have to contend with much of the crowd noise that has made life even-more difficult for opponents at the Superdome through the years.

But McGlinchey still will line up against Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, one of the best in the business coming off the edge.

Jordan leads the Saints with 29 quarterback pressures. He also is a force in the run game with 19 stops, according to Pro Football Focus. (A “stop” is defined as a tackle on a play that is considered a successful down for the defense.)

McGlinchey is graded as tied for second among all NFL offensive tackles as a run-blocker, according to PFF.

He has given up two sacks and 18 total pressures. His ability to tie up Jordan in both phases of the game will be a big key for quarterback Nick Mullens and the offense to move the ball and keep the Saints’ explosive offense on the sideline.

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Kinlaw ranks third on the team, behind Kerry Hyder (31) and Arik Armstead (26), with 12 quarterback pressures. He has two quarterback hits, 10 hurries and two passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.

But Kinlaw, the No. 14 overall pick in the draft, still is looking for the first sack of his NFL career.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh remembered the talk about DeForest Buckner from early in his career. Buckner was often close to the quarterback but did not finish the job.

“We talked about he (Buckner) needs to find that one step,” Saleh said. “I feel like that's where Kinlaw is with regards to, he's had some opportunities, he's missing a step and that just comes with time and reps and learning. I believe that he's going to get all that.”

The 49ers need help with their pass rusher, for sure. Through nine games, the 49ers have registered just 15 sacks. If Drew Brees has time to throw, this will be a long day for the 49ers’ secondary.

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Throughout the course of his first two=and-a-half seasons with the 49ers, James was a return specialist and a seldom-used offensive player.

He made quite a statement last week in hopes of changing his role on the team.

James was inserted into the game plan to take the spot that coach Kyle Shanahan designed for rookie Brandon Aiyuk.

James came through with nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown. It was the 49ers’ best day for a wide receiver since Anquan Boldin had 208 yards receiving against the Packers in the season opener of 2013.

Samuel will not be available for the 49ers on Sunday, so James and Aiyuk will start against Saints cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins. James is more comfortable in the slot, but he showed he can win on the outside, too.

He has earned the right to get on the field to become a more-significant contributor for as long as he remains with the 49ers.

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The 49ers will not have Mostert or Coleman available for the second game in a row. McKinnon gives the offense the best chance to control the clock with his ability to move the chains on the ground and as a pass-catcher.

McKinnon had a light workload a couple weeks ago when his legs started getting tired. He got the start in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers and looked fresh and ready, so coach Kyle Shanahan stayed with him over undrafted rookie JaMycal Hasty.

McKinnon should benefit from the extended break to get a lot of work on Sunday against the Saints, too.

The 49ers have to put together extended drives, and McKinnon should make an impact on all downs.

After having two seasons wiped out due to a knee injury, McKinnon is showing why Shanahan wanted him as part of his offense. He has rushed for 261 yards (4.4-yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He is also the team’s fourth-leading receiver with 24 catches for 173 yards and one touchdown.

If former 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander makes his Saints debut, the 49ers could find a way to isolate him in coverage against McKinnon to take advantage of what should be a favorable matchup.

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The 49ers’ best player will go head-to-head against the Saints’ best player.

Warner vs. Alvin Kamara.

Warner is the 49ers’ leading tackler. He ranks 10th in the NFL with 74 tackles. And he is the league’s best linebacker in pass coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, Warner while targeted in coverage has a passer-rating-against of just 60.5 – more than 40 points lower than the average linebacker.

He will have a busy day Sunday.

Kamara has 471 yards rushing, 565 yards receiving and a total of eight touchdowns. He is the central figure in the Saints’ offense, and it will be up to Warner to slow him down.

And that’s no easy task.

But, remember, Kamara has not faced a challenge like this, either.

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