Folger’s Forecast: Giants at San Francisco
By Bob Folger, Inside Football Senior Analyst
After surviving last week’s “trap” game and getting to 3-2, the Giants won’t have any problem getting up for the 49ers. The offense is purring with Eli Manning at the helm and the running game is suddenly a threat.
However, the defense remains problematic and is why the Giants will be underdogs. On the road and as underdogs, however, are two situations that these Giants seem to relish.
San Francisco is coming off two huge blowout victories. It’s very hard to sustain that level of dominance. The 49ers are as physical on both sides of the ball as any team in football. Their defense is in the Top 3, while the offense looks improved.
The 49ers will also have that “unfinished business” mantra from last year’s playoff loss as added motivation which should make this weekend’s game a classic.
Giants on Offense
Hakeem Nicks has missed two games, but could return this week. If he does, it will open up some space for Victor Cruz who despite the double teams, has still been productive.
The Giants’ passing game is on a roll no matter what receivers they run out there. Eli Manning is this team’s most important player, which is why protecting him remains a weekly priority.
In order to win, the offensive line has to play its best game of the year. They not only have to keep Manning upright, but they also have to give Ahmad Bradshaw room to run. Without the threat of the run, the 49ers’ pass rushers can pin back the Giants’ ears.
Last week, the coaches gave RT Sean Locklear a lot of chip-help in pass protection. Expect that strategy to continue this week, which will leave Will Beatty on an island. So far, Beatty has held up well. This week will be a supreme test going against the 49ers’ best pass rusher, OLB Aldon Smith. This matchup will be one of the game’s keys.
The other big headache last year was the difficulty that RG Chris Snee had blocking DT Ray McDonald. Snee, and especially C David Baas, are playing at a much higher level this year. McDonald and Justin Smith start the game at defensive end, but in passing downs, they move inside and create havoc. Keeping the middle of the pocket clean will be tough, but we think it can be done.
We suspect that TE Martellus Bennett will be limited by his knee injury suffered last week. While we believe he’ll find a way to play, we don’t think he’ll be able to do much in the passing game against the great ILB tandem of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. FB Henry Hynoski needs to have a good game getting a helmet on these linebackers.
The biggest reason for last year’s big Giants win was ball security. This year, we think the Giants will have to take more chances to score points. It will be a very fine line that Manning and friends will be walking, but Manning still gives his team its best chance of pulling off an upset.
Giants on Defense
It’s time that the Giants’ defensive ends wake up and start playing ball. As a group they’ve just been average. The 49ers give as much help blocking as any team in football as a matter of course so the path to the quarterback will not be any easier this week. Still, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora need to start living up to their pedigree.
Our biggest concern is the interior run defense. If Rocky Bernard can’t go – and it doesn’t appear he will–then the 49ers will target DTs Markus Kuhn and Marvin Austin with double-teams and lots of RB Frank Gore. If Gore has a big game, then the 49ers could roll.
Right now, we have more faith in Kuhn than Austin, the latter of whom showed himself to be very rusty. While the Giants will get Chris Canty back next week, this week a lot of responsibility will fall on these young players’ shoulders.
We hope to see more of LB Spencer Paysinger this week at the weakside linebacker spot, especially if Michael Boley remains slowed by a hip injury. The linebackers have not been used much on the blitz to date, as all the max protections and the troubles at cornerback have taken away that part of the defense’s game.
As a group, the linebackers have to clamp down on TE Vernon Davis, who scored two touchdowns last year against them. Davis is the 49ers best weapon on offense, but he’s not the only one.
The 49ers’ wide outs are much improved with the additions of Randy Moss and ex-Giant Mario Manningham. However, they still have limited QB Alex Smith throwing the ball. Smith is a game manager deluxe who is not asked very often to win a game for his team. If the Giants can put Smith in that position, then they will have a good chance to get the turnovers that they will need to win this game.
Besides Bernard, the return of CB Jayron Hosley could be a key. Hosley will likely return to his slot position with Will Hill suspended, and hopes that he can at least duplicate the solid job that Hill did in his absence. If Hosley is up to speed, that will give the defense a bit of a boost, as Hosley is a true ball hawk.
Giants on Special Teams
Two weeks ago, the Giants’ specials dominated. Last week the tables were turned. This week, this group will try to re-establish its footing, albeit against a very well-rounded 49ers unit.
David Wilson remains the unit’s biggest big-play threat, but he needs better blocking. In coverage, the special teams can’t rely on the two turnovers that they forced last year. Punter Steve Weatherford has been ordinary the last two weeks and needs to step up his game.
The 49ers’ kicking dup of David Akers and Andy Lee could be the best tandem in the league. Ted Ginn, Jr. is back returning punts while the 49ers kickoff returns have been very productive. Neutralizing all these weapons will be a game-long quest, and it won’t be easy.