Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants-49ers Preview
Basking in the still warm glow of an important win over the Patriots, we pause to preview game two of the Giants' gauntlet of a second half schedule. The Giants fly to the west coast to play the surprisingly 7-1 49ers.
Man last week was good. I mean, it was good. No Nicks, no Bradshaw, no Baas, on the road, versus touchdown Tommy Brady, and to hell with it all! Eli Manning took that game over with two late go-ahead touchdown drives for a win - an impressive, valiant win. Fantastic. But dwelling on the past rather than looking forward gets you one thing in this league, a loss. So in that spirit we turn our attention to the 7-1 49ers. 7-1? Oh yeah. 7-1.
Since the arrival of Jim Harbaugh the 49ers have come alive. The former Stanford coach has resurrected this once great franchise from a period of mediocrity. With roughly the same roster that finished last year at an underwhelming 6-10 the 49ers have been one of the surprises of the NFL. They boast a top ten defense, first in the league against the run, and a serviceable offense that has done enough to guide them to only one loss thus far - with no sign of slowing down. The Niners figure to be one of the first teams to wrap up their division, though that may not be the glowing review of the Niners that I hoped. After all, they do play in the unspeakably horrific NFC-West - the worst division in football since...well...last year's NFC-West, in which that 6-10 record was good enough for the Niners to finish just one game behind the division champion. Gross.
But that's a thing of the past. The NFC-West has at least one professional football team in it, now. The Niners' tough defense and the dynamic running of Frank Gore - not to mention Alex Smith's passible play, which is only noteworthy because he's playing a team with a history of getting run over by terrible QB's - will certainly test the Giants. A footnote is all Alex Smith gets however, as I think that if the Giants are to be beaten it will be by Frank Gore. Big Blue has shown some susceptibility to the run this year, and while their pass defense isn't good, and while I expect a balanced attack from the Niners, you have to put the ball into the hands of your best players. Frank Gore will be their featured player on Sunday.
For that reason, I think the defensive key to this game for the Giants is stuffing the run. Shut down Frank Gore, make San Francisco one dimensional and invite Alex Smith to beat you. If you're the Giants, and I can't believe I'm going to say this, I think you trust your secondary to win you the game...whoa, that made me nervous just to type. But let's look at the facts. The Giants pass defense has improved in every game this season and they turned in a very good effort Sunday versus a dynamic Patriots pass offense - and this 49er attack is not nearly as talented. Alex Smith is not Tom Brady. Michael Crabtree is not Wes Welker, at least not since he left college. Vernon Davis may be Rob Gronkowski, but Davis has barely been looked at by Alex Smith in these past few weeks (he notes angrily as a not so proud fantasy owner of the formerly prodigious tight end). Additionally, if/when coverage breaks down, the Giant pass rush will make it hard for Alex Smith to get the ball out of his hand before his back is planted firmly on the turf.
Offensively, Eli Manning is going to have to be the man once again. The 49ers have yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season. I'll repeat that and allow it to sink in. The 49ers have yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season. That's an insane stat, and though it is one that I expect the Giants to end this weekend - the Giants are great at running the ball near the goal line either via the spread 'em out draw or the power run - I think it speaks to the thought that Bradshaw (if he plays) and Jacobs won't find much success against this top ranked run defense. Gilbride will work them into the game plan and they should have an ok game, but there will be nothing profound. I think the Giants are going to have to throw the ball. The 49ers are ranked 22nd in the NFL in passing defense. Eli Manning is playing the best regular season football of his career and looked brilliant in the fourth quarter of last week's game while throwing to Victor Cruz, Ramses Barden and Jake Ballard - not exactly a Pro-bowl team. Hell, that's barely an All-Maac team. Hakeem Nicks didn't practice Wednesday but he did say that he's running with no pain and "it's looking good" for Sunday. That'll give Manning yet another and a more talented target with which to exploit this 49er secondary. I think a Giants win centers on Manning's game.
I expect both teams to play well on Sunday. They're both good teams. The Giants have looked great in big games this season and the Niners boast the second best record in the league - neither happens by accident. Matching up the two teams I note that they aren't separated by much; however I think the Giants are the more well rounded squad. The 49ers seem one dimensional on both sides of the ball and in the wrong ways when facing the Giants. They're an excellent run defense, but their work against the pass leaves much to be desired, which plays perfectly to the strengths of Eli Manning and this Giants offense. Frank Gore is a top back and leads a running attack that is 6th in the league, but Alex Smith and company aren't exactly the '99 Rams, and while the Giants can be burned by the run they're far more susceptible to the pass.
Breaking down the game specifically, I expect Frank Gore to have a very good game on Sunday. Despite the resources that the G-Men will throw at this 49er run game, I think they'll be gashed for a few big gains. Let me be clear, I'm not expecting them to be blown apart to the tune of 250 yards, but I don't expect a shut-down effort. I do think the secondary will play well and ultimately keep this offense under check, however. Offensively you can't expect much from whichever Giants running backs play. They're better than what their stats say, but they haven't looked dynamic by any stretch of the imagination this year and will be facing their toughest competition to date on Sunday. I think they'll have some success, including the first rushing touchdown the 49ers have given up this season, but nothing huge. You should expect production from the pass game, however. Eli Manning, given the way he's played all season, should exploit this porous pass defense. Look for Manning to spread the ball around and lead the Giants up and down the field.
Ultimately, I think the fact that the Giants are the more well-rounded team gets them the win. It's a tough task, traveling to the west coast and beating a good team, but the Giants are historically very good on the road in big games. They know what their schedule is, they'll be eager to get another win. I think Manning leads the offense, Boley and Tuck lead the defense and Weatherford (MVP) leads the entire team to a hard fought 24-17 win.
Check back here after the game for a recap and follow me on Twitter for thoughts on the everything sports @JoeBianchino