Approach to the Game – New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, November 6, 2005: Unless the other teams in the NFC East begin to unravel, this is a must game for the Giants as the Giants’ schedule becomes incredibly difficult after the next two games. Last week was an emotional time for the Giants, but they have to re-group quickly and realize what is at stake. They have a real chance to make some noise this year if they continue to improve and win games.
Tom Coughlin correctly pointed out this week that San Francisco is a far different team at home than on the road. They have beaten the Rams and the Buccaneers at home and should have beaten the Cowboys. The 49ers have some talented players in the front seven on defense and they can run the football.
All that matters is getting a win, which would be the Giants’ first road victory of the season.
Giants on Offense: The 49ers run a 3-4 defense that has struggled mightily at times this season. However, they played well last week in the huge upset over Tampa Bay. The glaring weakness on the 49ers’ defense is their secondary. Left corner Ahmed Plummer, who Amani Toomer torched regularly three years ago, will likely not play due to an ankle injury. His replacement, Bruce Thorton, was just signed off the practice squad. He was a 4th round 2004 draft pick bust in Dallas. The right corner, Shawntae Spencer, is ordinary at best and susceptible to being beaten deep. This is a match-up that Plaxico Burress should dominate. The free safety, Mike Adams, is a journeyman and the nickel and dimes backs are not very good. Spreading the field with Shockey and Tim Carter split out wide along with Burress and Toomer might be a very good game plan.
The undercover on Shockey should be solid. SS Tony Parrish is a good player and left outside linebacker Julian Peterson is one of the better players in the league at his position. Shockey and Peterson had a pretty good battle three years ago in the playoffs and I would expect that to continue.
The Giants should be able to torch the 49ers secondary IF (1) the offensive line and other blockers give him time, and (2) Eli Manning plays much better than he did last week. The 49ers have a good run defense, only allowing 3.8 yards-per-carry (tied with the Ravens for eighth best in the NFL). Look for the 49ers to focus on stopping HB Tiki Barber and daring the inconsistent Manning to beat them. Really, that is their only hope to win the game.
The 49ers can rush the passer – they have 21 sacks on the season. Left end Bryant Young is playing exceptionally well and already has eight sacks. He really will be a handful for RT Kareem McKenzie and RG Chris Snee. Right end Marques Douglas is a solid player, especially as a run defender. The nose tackle, Anthony Adams, is a hustle-type who lacks size. The linebackers are solid. Peterson can do it all and is a good blitzer. Former defensive end Andre Carter has been shifted the right linebacker, or elephant position, in the 49ers’ scheme. He’s a good pass rusher too. Blitz pick-ups will be crucial.
The game plan is pretty simple. Protect Manning and hope he has one of his better games, torch the 49er secondary, get a big lead, and then wear the 49ers down with the running game. If the pass protection or Manning falter, this game will be closer than it should.
Giants on Defense: Will the real Giants’ defense please stand up? Last week was great and the Giants are unlikely to match that kind of defensive productivity again this season. The 49ers will be starting their fourth quarterback of the season – the very green Cody Pickett. However, Pickett is a big, tough quarterback with a good arm and mobility. Moreover, because the Giants don’t have much tape on him, they really don’t know what his strengths and weaknesses are. Like the first time batters face a new pitcher, this could cause some problems, particularly early in the game.
Obviously, the big key is to make the 49ers one-dimensional and put all of the pressure on Pickett and the passing game. The 49ers have two decent halfbacks in Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore. The 49ers wore down the Buccaneers last week with the running game and will be looking to do the same with the Giants. Barlow runs with good power and Gore has the speed to break bigger plays. The good news is that the 49ers are beat up on the offensive line. LT Jonas Jennings is doubtful with a shoulder injury and OC Jeremy Newberry is questionable with knee and ankle injuries. Osi Umenyiora will face Anthony Clement, a former right tackle for the Cardinals. He’s a big guy who can run block so Umenyiora will have to button down the hatches against the run (particularly with DE Justin Tuck ailing). Umenyiora should create match-up problems on the pass rush however. DE Michael Strahan faces the tougher test against Kwame Harris is big and athletic. LG Justin Smiley and RG/OC Eric Heitmann are solid inside, but if Newberry doesn’t play, that will help the Giants. Newberry is one of the better centers in the game.
The 49ers do not have a lot of talent at the receiving positions. TE Eric Johnson is out for the season. Rookie 7th rounder Billy Bajema is the starter and he only has three receptions. WR Arnaz Battle is questionable with a knee sprain. If Battle does not play, expect to see more of Johnnie Morton, the 12-year veteran who lacks deep speed. He’s similar to Ike Hilliard. Brandon Lloyd, the other starting receiver, will likely be covered by Will Allen. Lloyd is a good athlete who can make plays down the field and over the middle, but he’s not consistent.
Easy game plan. Stop the run. Don’t let the mobile quarterback pick up cheap first downs with his feet. Play tight coverage and get after the young quarterback. While you don’t want to give up the cheap touchdown and give the 49ers hope, you don’t want to play it too safe on defense. Don’t make it easy for Pickett.
Giants on Special Teams: PK Joe Nedney is kicking as well as Jay Feely and is perfect in the 40-49 yard range. Otis Amey (who is questionable with an ankle injury) has a punt return for a touchdown and is averaging 16.5 yards per return. The Giants need to keep him in check if he plays, especially with David Tyree (elbow) still questionable.
The 49ers have done a good job of covering kickoffs (18.8 yards per return) and punts (8 yards per return).