Nov 162011
 
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San Francisco 49ers 27 (8-1) – New York Giants 20 (6-3)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary

The New York Giants once again found themselves scrambling at the end of the game to overcome a 4th quarter deficit and this week they came up 10 yards short of tying the 49ers and taking the game into overtime.  In the end, New York lost a nail biter that could have easily been their 7th victory.  Now at 6-3, the Giants lead the NFC East by 1 game over the Cowboys and have a tough row to hoe if they’re going to win the division.  With the schedule ahead combined with the other teams in the NFC positioned for wild card berths, it’s a good bet that the Giants will have to win the division to earn a post season berth.

Everyone expected a tight, physical game and for the most part it was.  The Giants were better than San Francisco in every major statistical category save two, turnovers and the final score.  The 49ers converted 2 interceptions and an onsides kick into 10 points and the Giants were unable to turn the 1 interception they made into any.

The Giants, frankly, were the better team for the most part of this game but were unable to turn strong drives into touchdowns and on defense had few answers for QB Alex Smith and the surprisingly effective 49er passing game.  The problems were many, and on all three phases of the game.  Many people started threads in The Corner Forum about this play or that play, this decision or that decision as if one event caused the loss. This game wasn’t lost due to any one play or decision.  It was due to the culmination of a lot of little things that added up to a late deficit that for this game, could not be overcome.

On Offense:

  1. A promising 14 play 75 yard opening drive stalled at the 49er 5 yard line and the Giants had to settle for a field goal
  2. The Giants’ 2nd possession, a 13 play 73 yard drive stalled at the 49ers 7 yard line and the Giants once again had to settle for a field goal.
  3. On their 3rd drive, following a huge drop by WR Victor Cruz, New York ran the exact play again and this time the 49ers intercepted the pass.
  4. On 3rd down and 4 from their own 21 yard line leading by 1 point, Eli Manning escaped the 49er rush and  woefully under threw a wide open Hakeem Nicks for what would have been an easy 1st down.
  5. On their next drive, on a 2nd and 7 play from their own 14 yard line, Mario Manningham gave up on his route and Manning’s throw was intercepted by 49er CB Carlos Rogers.
  6. On their final possession, a 16 play 70 yard drive in which the Giants secured a 2nd and 2 at the San Francisco 10 yard line ended after the Giants ran a fade to Cruz on 2nd down, a draw to D.J. Ware on 3rd down, and a batted ball on 4th.

On Defense:

  1. On San Francisco’s 1st drive, the defense allowed 2 third down conversions but stiffened to hold the 49ers to a field goal.
  2. On San Francisco’s 2nd drive, DE Osi Umenyiora’s offsides penalty nullified an interception by CB Corey Webster.
  3. On the same drive, the Giants allowed QB Alex Smith to complete a 3rd and 21 pass from outside field goal range for 17 yards, enabling K David Akers to nail a 52 yarder to tie the score.
  4. In the 4th quarter, DE Dave Tollefson was called, unrightfully so (more on this later), for a false start on a 3rd and 2 play.  Later in the drive, New York failed to cover TE Vernon Davis short across the middle that resulted in an easy 31 yard touchdown.
  5. Following that touchdown, the Giants were unable to stop the 49ers from converting a 2 point play.  More on that play later.
  6. Following the 2nd Manning interception, the Giants lost contain and allowed rookie running back Kendall Hunter to run untouched off left tackle for a ridiculously easy 17 yard touchdown.

Special Teams:

  1. Following the 49ers second field goal, New York surrendered an onsides kick that was perfectly executed.  On the play, the Giants turned from the line and began retreating before the kick and WR Ramses Barden was unable to recover to get into position to make any play on the ball.  Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other team, but HC Tom Coughlin said post game that they had practiced that scenario all week yet were victimized by it.
  2. Following that San Francisco drive and just before Manning’s first interception, LB Greg Jones was called for a hold on the kickoff, nullifying a 37 yard return by Da’Rel Scott and forcing the Giants to start that ill fated drive on their own 22.
  3. After scoring to take the lead and holding the 49ers to 3 and out on their next drive, Giants S Derrick Martin committed 2 penalties on the punt resulting in pinning the Giants at their own 15 yard line.
  4. After Manning missed the wide open Nicks on the play mentioned above, P Steve Weatherford shanked the punt giving the 49ers outstanding field position at midfield.
  5. Prior to Manning’s second interception, Da’Rel Scott unwisely tried to return a kick 5 yards deep in his own end zone and was tackled at the New York 11 yard line.
  6. Before the final drive, Derrick Martin was once again called for holding, causing the Giants 10 yards of field position, starting at their own 20 instead of the 30.  Coincidentally, the Giants came up 10 yards short of tying the game on the drive.

Coaching:

  1. HC Tom Coughlin unwisely challenged whether a 49er touched a punt early in the second half costing his team a time out.  While in the final analysis it’s debatable that they could have used the time out, it could have been crucial.
  2. Speaking of time outs, after gaining 8 yards on 1st down to get to the 49er 10 yard line, New York ran three plays including the 4th down play without calling a time out to discuss their options.  It’s certainly worth debate as to whether it’s better to keep the pedal down and the 49ers on the defensive or to take a time out and allow them to regroup.
  3. The conventional wisdom going into the game was that San Francisco would try to assert their solid ground game and grind out a win, but it became obvious very early in the game that they were going to come at the Giants through the air.  LB Greg Jones, the better LB against the run, saw a lot of time in the first half when the Giants were getting picked apart.  LB Jacquian Williams, the better of the two against the pass, saw limited action.  It was surprising that the Giants didn’t change up once it became clear Gore was ineffective and the 49ers were committed to the passing game.
  4. With their green zone woes, it was odd that WR Ramses Barden wasn’t in on a single play at any time in the green zone.

To compound the miscues and flat out errors, there were other issues.  LB Michael Boley was lost for the game early, forcing the Giants to use rookie Spencer Paysinger alongside Williams or Jones.  CB Aaron Ross was also in and out of the lineup in the second half, causing the Giants to have to employ Victor Cruz at punt returner.  Finally, Manningham had a sure touchdown on the final drive slip through the tips of his fingers on a slightly overthrown ball from Manning.

This is all to show that 1 play rarely has ultimate impact on a game.  While any of those plays could have possibly changed the outcome, when you pile them up on each other it’s simply not probable you’re going to overcome them all.  As mentioned, the Giants dominated the stat sheet and had they converted some plays and avoided some others, they would have won this game handily.

Offense

New York had an impressive day yardage wise against a very good San Francisco defense.  The Giants rolled up 21 first downs on 395 total yards, mounting 5 long drives, all 70 yards or more, that unfortunately yielded just 20 points.

In the green zone, the Giants had 4 possessions but were only able to score 1 touchdown and 2 field goals for 13 points out of a possible 28.  The final drive inside the green zone ended on a 4th down incomplete pass.

New York had decent balance, rushing 29 times and passing 41.  On their rushing attempts, the Giants gained 93 total yards for a 3.2 ypc average.  While they had more success than they’ve had in some time against the #1 team against the run, the running game is still not as potent as it needs to be going forward.

The Giants converted seven of 14 3rd downs and two of three 4th downs on the day, another encouraging sign.  In doing so, the Giants were able to sustain drives and win the time of possession battle by nearly 10 minutes.

Quarterback

Eli Manning had some uncanny throws, particularly his deep throws, and some that weren’t so effective like the duck he threw to Nicks on a 3rd and 4 play that would have extended the drive.  Instead, that play led to the fateful 3 minutes in which the 49ers scored 15 points to take a 14 point lead.  On the day, Eli started off 10 for 10 and finished the day 26 of 40 for 311 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  His passer rating on the day was 84.5 and his Total QBR was 64.5.

Manning struggled in the green zone this week.  Though he was able to complete several passes, all but one were short of the end zone and he missed twice on the final drive.  His lone touchdown pass from inside the green zone was a beautiful fade to Manningham on a play in which Manningham was covered well.  In fact, both of Manning’s touchdowns were absolutely perfect throws, and he nearly had a third when he led Manningham just a touch too far on the last drive.

While Manning threw two interceptions, both of which led to 49er points, only one was completely his fault.  The first was a play in which he probably shouldn’t have thrown.  The Giants ran the same play to Cruz two times in a row and after dropping the first one, Cruz never had a chance on the second as CB Carlos Rogers had perfect coverage and made the easy pick.

Once again, however, Manning rallied the team late and had the Giants in position to tie the game on the last drive.  On this day, however, Manning came up one play short.

Running Backs

The Giants were once again without HB Ahmad Bradshaw, paving the way for another opportunity for HB Brandon Jacobs to lead the rushing attack.  Considering they were facing the toughest running defense in the NFL, Jacobs had a pretty good day finishing with 55 yards on 18 carries, a 3.1 ypc average.  Jacobs converted a 3rd and 1 from the 49er 15 yard line to temporarily extend what became the second Giants field goal of the game.  Jacobs also caught 2 passes for 16 yards.  Of his 20 touches, Jacobs got 11 of them on their first two drives.

BBI’s favorite running back, D.J. Ware, had a solid game rushing for 34 yards on 9 carries for a 3.8 ypc average.  Ware also caught 5 of 6 passes thrown his way for 34 yards.  Unfortunately for Ware, he was the back to get the ball on the failed 3rd and 2 inside handoff that was stuffed for no gain.  While many people in The Corner Forum are giving him grief for the failed run as well as calling out OC Kevin Gilbride for the play call, that particular play was largely successful all afternoon.  The play was blown up due to an incredible individual play by DT Justin Smith who blew up C David Baas and quickly got into Ware’s lane and stuffed him.  Ware had absolutely no where to go, but had Baas been able to contain Smith it looked as though Ware would easily have had the first down.  That play is totally contingent on the DTs being contained and LG David Diehl pulling into the hole to get the linebacker.  Everything on the play worked except Baas handling Smith.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

New York’s receiving corps had another solid day.  WR Victor Cruz led the Giants with 84 yards on 6 catches, but had the one crucial drop in the 2nd quarter.  He was Manning’s top target on the day, getting 11 looks, including 4 on the final drive.  Cruz is now 10th in the NFL with 672 yards.  He’s on pace for 1,195 yards and 71 catches on the year.  Quite a showing from the 2nd year man out of Massachusetts.

WR Hakeem Nicks saw a ton of double teams, and it showed in his production as Manning went to him just 4 times.  Nicks caught 2 passes for 41 yards including a 32 yard touchdown that was a thing of beauty on one of the few plays he saw single coverage.  On the drive in which WR Mario Manningham caught his touchdown, Nicks might have had an earlier one but Manning severely underthrew him and it almost ended up an interception (S Dashon Goldson came down with the ball just out of bounds).

WR Mario Manningham was targeted 10 times, catching 6 for 77 yards and the touchdown mentioned above.  Manningham did a fantastic job of getting his feet down as he had very little room to maneuver after catching the ball.  Manningham did have the critical error of stopping his route on Manning’s first interception and although the ball was slightly overthrown, he had the opportunity to catch what would have been a game tying touchdown with just under 3 minutes to go in the game.  They say baseball is a game of inches, but on that play football proved to be as well.

TE Bear Pascoe caught 2 passes for 23 yards including one in which he ran over CB Carlos Rogers for an extra 5 yards.

This week, Jake Ballard wasn’t as active as he’s been recently, catching just 3 balls for 35 yards.  Ballard saw a lot of press coverage at the line and wasn’t getting free releases as he has in past weeks.  Although he was effectively neutralized, that opened up the field for Cruz.

Offensive Line

The Giants offensive line is still not playing to the level they need to be playing.  Although the rushing game went for nearly 100 yards, there were still too many plays for little or negative yardage.  It seems obvious now, at the half way point of the year, that RT Kareem McKenzie is losing a step and is nowhere near as effective as he’s been in past seasons.

C David Baas is one of a few Giants that is playing hurt and he’s been on and off in the running game.  As outlined above, he was blown up on the failed 3rd and 2 from the 49er 10 yard line on the last drive, but earlier in that drive on the very same play he stoned Justin Smith and Ware gained 5 yards on the play.

Pass protection was fair, as Manning was hit just 3 times and sacked just once.  However, he was under a lot of pressure that he was able to move away from.

William Beatty had a solid game and is becoming a very good left tackle.

Defense

Although it may have looked like the Giants defense had a rough game after allowing the 49ers to score on 6 of 10 possessions, they were put into some tough situations by the offense and special teams.  On 3 or their scoring drives, the 49ers started at their own 47, midfield, and the New York 17.  San Francisco scored 17 points off those drives.

The Giants held the 49ers to just 3 third down conversions on 11 chances, but two came on the first San Francisco drive that resulted in a field goal.  San Francisco only ran 52 offensive plays all day, gaining 305 total yards with just 77 on the ground.  Before HB Frank Gore left the game with a knee injury, he gained no yards on 6 carries.  The 49er backs carried just 14 times for 50 yards.  New York had trouble containing Alex Smith, who got free for 27 yards on 6 carries.  Unfortunately, losing contain on Hunter’s 17 yard touchdown run was the one big play in the running game the 49ers got and it really hurt the Giants.

San Francisco employed a very effective short passing game and though Smith’s numbers were fairly average, he was effective enough to keep the chains moving and get the 49ers into scoring position.  Again, just one big play in the passing game did in the Giants as they allowed a 5 yard cross to TE Vernon Davis go for a 31 yard touchdown.

Believe it or not, over their last 5 drives of consequence San Francisco netted just 69 yards and three 1st downs yet were able to convert two short fields into touchdowns.

Front 7

The Giants front seven had their best game against the run all season, but though they were able to get to Alex Smith, they missed at least 3 sacks and let him loose to scramble 6 times.  Although he’s playing, Justin Tuck is not healthy.  There is no other excuse for the lack of impact he is having right now on the field.  On Sunday Tuck wasn’t in on a single tackle and got to Smith one time.  On the other side, Umenyiora had a sack but again wasn’t able to get to Smith regularly and only had 2 tackles.  Dave Tollefson, a big part of the DT rotation, was also shut out on the stat sheet.

Speaking of Tollefson, he was flagged for a crucial neutral zone infraction in which he and Justin Tuck, lined up at DT, reacted to WR Delany Walker standing up at the line of scrimmage.  On the play, Ted Ginn, Jr. was in motion when Walker stood up, which should have been a penalty for an illegal shift if not a false start.  The call went against the Giants, however, and it turned a 3rd and 2 play into a 1st down.  Two plays later, the 49ers were in the end zone.

On that play, the 49ers exploited the rookie MIKE Greg Jones with a simple crossing pattern to Vernon Davis.  As Davis flashed across, Jones stood flat footed as though he was looking to cover the leaking RB out of the backfield leaving Davis all alone for the easy pitch, catch and run for the touchdown.  Jones mad just 3 tackles.  As a whole, the front 7 made just 20 tackles and only 12 by the linebackers (4 by Kiwanuka).  That’s an awful lot of pressure to levy on your secondary.  Additionally, the front 7 only defensed 2 passes, as the linebackers were picked apart by Smith.

On the Hunter touchdown run, both Mathais Kiwanuka and DE Jason Pierre-Paul were blatantly held which gave Hunter the lane he needed to get into the end zone.  While it may be understandable that the hold on Kiwanuka wasn’t called because by the time Hunter got by him he was effectively out of the play but the hold on Pierre-Paul was sustained the entire play and it’s a call that should have been made.

Secondary

For the first time in recent memory, S Kenny Phillips led the Giants in tackles with 5.  Fellow S Antrel Rolle also had 5 tackles and was probably the best Giants defender on the field.  He made two huge early tackles to hold the 49ers to field goal attempts on the first two drives.  Rolle was victimized on the 49er two point conversion when he was picked on the play by WR Delany Walker as WR Michael Crabtree flaired into the flat and caught the pass untouched.  It was another call that simply wasn’t made on a day when quite a few weren’t called.

Corey Webster had an up and down game.  He allowed a couple of completions to Delany Walker and 1 to WR Michael Crabtree.  Another pass would have been completed against him but clanged off the hands of wide open WR Ted Ginn, Jr. into the arms of Webster for his 4th interception of the year.  That play saved a probable 3 and possible 7 points before the half.  Webster also had an interception called back due to an offsides penalty on Osi Umenyiora.

CB Aaron Ross gave up a couple receptions but also had a couple of great open field tackles, including one on Vernon Davis.

Special Teams

In a case of 1 step forward 2 steps back, the Giants special teams contributed mightily to this loss.  The litany of mistakes and missteps have already been detailed above, but it bears repeating that you cannot make these kinds mistakes and win games consistently.  There is just no excuse to be caught napping on an onsides kick attempt, particularly in light of the fact that they practiced for it and seemed to expect it.

Steve Weatherford had the one bad punt but otherwise was effective and Lawrence Tynes made both field goal attempts and did a great job on kickoffs.

The return teams were not good.  When they weren’t making bad decisions to return kicks, their blockers were committing penalties.  The average start for the Giants was their own 19 yard line (they started 3 drives inside their 20, and their best starting field position on the day was their own 22) while the 49ers average starting field position was their own 35 (they started two drives in Giants territory and one at midfield).

Coaching

Hats off to HC Tom Coughlin for having the Giants ready to play after a cross country trip following an emotional win in New England last week.  Coughlin made the one mistake challenging the play in which he thought a 49er touched the football on a punt.

OC Kevin Gilbride is taking a lot of heat in The Corner Forum for his 3rd and 2 draw call on the last drive, but he’s not been given any credit for calling the plays that got them back into the game.  It seems people forget he also called two other 4th down plays that worked on that drive.

Final Thoughts

This was a tough, tough loss to a good team that the Giants should have beaten.  Now at 6-3, this game and the Seattle game loom as those that will be scrutinized if the Giants don’t march on to the NFC East title.  The Philadelphia Eagles come in to New York next Sunday and the Giants have a chance to knock them completely out of the playoff race and stay in front of the Cowboys before having to take on the Saints and Packers.  It’s been discussed that all the Giants need to do to win the East is to defeat the NFC East opponents  and the first one is up this week.  It’s time for New York to take care of business.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, November 13, 2011)
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