New York Giants 26 (4-2) – San Francisco 49ers 3 (4-2)
By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com
It seems that ever since I can remember, and this is going back to the NFC Divisional Playoff game in 1981 (Joe Montana’s first ever playoff game) which is the unofficial start of the Giants and 49ers rivalry, the Giants are almost universally chosen to lose at Candlestick Park.
And so it was again this week as the pissed off, red-circling-dates-on-calendars, victim 49ers were 7 point favorites and everyone’s lock to win against the hopeless, injury-ravaged, championship-thieving New York Giants. Seriously, no one but Michael Strahan, the not-so-unbiased co-host on FOX NFL Sunday, was the only pundit that even bothered to choose the Giants. Too many injuries. Too much protection for Smith, who in THIS game, was a better choice than Manning. Too much Frank Gore. Too much Vernon Davis. Too many linebackers waiting to destroy the running game first and then Eli.
In the end, there was only too much talking on the part of the 49er and the pundits as the Giants dismantled the entire 49er apparatus…offense, defense, and special teams…in a 26-3 rout.
The Giants took San Francisco’s only punch, three points off two promising first quarter drives, and then beat them mercilessly into submission for the next 45 minutes. At the end of the first quarter, SF held a nearly 8 minute time of possession advantage, 11:24 – 3:36. The Giants did not gain a first down until the last minute of the quarter. The Giants got on track on their third drive which began after New York intercepted QB Alex Smith with about 14 minutes left in the second quarter. The Giants decided they were going to run the ball regardless of results and it opened up lanes for QB Eli Manning to hit a couple deep passes that got the ball rolling.
Once the Giants took the lead, the defense never looked back. After gaining 120 yards on their first two drives in the first quarter, San Francisco gained just 164 and turned the ball over three times on interceptions and twice on downs over their final 10 drives. The final 42 yards came in garbage time on their last drive. San Francisco never entered the green zone all day.
At the end of the game, New York had turned that eight minute time of possession deficit into a 32:15 to 27:45 advantage. San Francisco held the ball for just over 16 minutes over the final three quarters.
The other telling statistic was the fact that the Giants allowed only four of 14 third down conversions and held San Francisco to zero for two on fourth down. All four of the 49ers third down conversions came on their first two drives. The 49ers never converted on third or fourth down after that in 12 attempts. That was critical to keeping the 49ers at bay the rest of the way.
The only blemish on an otherwise stellar day for the offense was their inability to convert two interceptions that set up the Giants up with first downs at the San Francisco 12 and 5 yard lines respectively into touchdowns. New York was just two for six in converting touchdowns from the green zone.
It was obvious after the first three Giants drives were over, New York was committed to run the ball. It started off slowly, but it worked in the Giants’ favor in the long run as it first opened up the passing game and then when that started working New York started gashing the 49ers for big chunks on the ground.
As such, Eli Manning didn’t have to throw the ball all over the field and finished with 15 completions on 28 attempts for 193 yards and one touchdown. Manning’s touchdown was a dart to WR Victor Cruz in the back of the end zone that put the Giants ahead for good. Manning began slowly but got red hot in the second quarter when he converted nine straight completions.
Manning got a little lucky when he threw what looked like would be a certain pick six to SF CB Carlos Rogers near the San Francisco goal line. That could have turned the entire game around as instead of going up 20-3 the score would have been 17-10. Fortunately, Rogers’ old troubles of holding onto the ball from his Washington Redskins days reared up and he dropped it.
Manning’s passer rating was a pedestrian 87.4 and his Total QBR, the better measure of a quarterbacks play despite it having its own flaws, was 96.0, the third time he’s been over 90 this season. The only other QB in the league who has had three games over 90 this season is his brother Peyton. Eli is third in the NFL with a Total QBR of 75.9, behind only Peyton and Tom Brady. Manning is third in the NFL in passing yardage.
After taking the Browns to the woodshed with 200 rushing yards last week, Ahmad Bradshaw got back on the horse and shredded the vaunted 49er defense for 116 yards on 27 carries, a 4.3 ypc average. Bradshaw had just 23 yards on 11 carries in the first half, but those 11 carries showed that the Giants were committed to running the ball. Bradshaw, at times, still seems to either miss or not trust the blocking scheme in front of him as he left some yards on the field by inexplicably changing direction into trouble.
On the first drive of the second half, Bradshaw’s number was called on five plays, including the final four in which he gained the final 16 yards including the one-yard touchdown plunge on third-and-goal.
I honestly cannot remember the last time the Giants rushed more often than they passed in a game, but the balance has been good the past two weeks. New York’s running game is now ranked ninth in the NFL.
Rookie HB David Wilson also had another good game in his limited action, rushing 7 times for 35 yards (5.0 ypc average). In the absence of HB Andre Brown for a second straight game due to concussion-like symptoms, the rookie is getting valuable playing time and is earning respect and trust from the coaching staff. It’s no secret that in the Bradshaw-Jacobs years, the Giants were better on the ground when there were two effective backs sharing the load. Bradshaw has had 57 carries and a number of receptions for more than 60 touches in the last two games. That is probably not the recipe the Giants would like to see going forward.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:
The Giants got WR Hakeem Nicks back for this matchup and it certainly helped them. Nicks may have been significantly less than 100%, but he still caught 3 of 5 passes for 44 yards including a nifty catch while he was being interfered with. Nicks opens up the field for the other receivers, and the beneficiary on Sunday was Victor Cruz. Cruz has cemented himself as one of the best receivers in all of football. On Sunday, Eli Manning targeted him an incredible 13 times. Cruz caught six, including his sixth touchdown catch of the season, tying him for second place in the NFL. Cruz is already at 496 yards receiving.
Earlier this year, I gave WR Domenik Hixon little if any chance to contribute more than a minor amount to the Giants offense this season. I was flat out wrong. Hixon has been nothing short of outstanding, making four more catches for 78 yards on Sunday. It seems that all of Hixon’s catches are of the circus or close-to-circus variety. His comeback route on third-and-eight at the right sideline gained 16 yards as he just kept his feet in bounds. That play kept the Giants’ first touchdown drive alive, and that was after he jumpstarted the offense with a catch on third-and-six 39 yard catch. Hixon was wide open and if he’d have been hit in stride it would have been an easy touchdown. Instead, the ball was a little long and off the mark. Hixon adjusted to the ball and caught it falling backwards with his back to the goal line. It was a tremendous catch.
TEs Martellus Bennett and Bear Pascoe didn’t factor much in the passing game, but both were instrumental in the running game with their blocking.
It’s clear after the past two games, the offensive line is clicking. I would have to say that they have far exceeded my expectations, especially the offensive tackles, Will Beatty and Sean Locklear. The Giants have not given up a sack since the Carolina game and have held opponents sackless in four of the last five games. That is astounding.
I could try to write more about the offensive line, but I thought that I’d share a post from Corner Forum contributor Joey in VA. When Joey’s not running his jersey business, he’s watching the offensive line and had this to say about the Anatomy of a Running Play, which sums up how well the line along with FB Henry Hynoski and TEs Martellus Bennett and Bear Pascoe are playing:
So I had to re-watch some of the Giants 49ers game because I suppose I’m deranged (but I guess I’ll just have to call) but I had to see why we ran the ball so effectively against the best front 7 in football. I won’t bore you guys with play by play non sense, but Gilbride’s comment about Justin Smith holding his man proved to be something we used to have some success, and it cannot be overstated how well Henry Hynoski did leading the way all afternoon. The play that may have put the nail in the coffin, to me anyway, was with 13:42 left in the 4th quarter, Giants up 20 with a 2nd and 7 at their own 19.5 yard line. Many will argue Wilson’s return was the game and that has its merits but the back breaking run was to me, this play.
The Giants lined in a standard Pro-Set with the TE on the left side and the 49ers, as is their way countered with a base 3-4 cover 2 shell, almost not expecting the run and again challenging the Giants to put it on the ground. That is the arrogance of this defense and its DC, that down 20 deep inside the Giants own side of the field, they choose to play man on man football and let their players win the battles. Guess what kids? These aren’t the 1978 Steelers, so their hubris is their biggest mistake.
On the snap, the Giants start to slide right, a typical Gilbride running play that hopes to move the front 7 and hit them backside with a counter gap run. Martellus Bennett easily turns his man, OLB Aldon Smith outside. LG Kevin Boothe immediately fires out on NaVarro Bowman and swallows him for lunch, FB Henry Hynoski absolutely hammers Patrick Wilson in the left side B gap who had taken a step to his left to pursue what appeared to be the play side movement of LG Chris Snee and RT Sean Locklear. What gave Willis the key was C David Baas hook blocking the LDE which gave the appearance of a run to the right side up the A gap. Willis guessed wrong and got crunched by Hynoski.
What made the play go though, was LT Will Beatty letting RDE Justin Smith get upfield on his inside shoulder, which made Smith hold Beatty (his usual tactic for allowing his LBs to flow to the play and the item that Gilbride said he got away with murder on) and start to stack him up inside to get to the play on the ride side of the A gap. Beatty essentially allowed Smith to grab hold and ride him too far upfield to make a difference and Bradshaw squirted by for a 23 yard gain between now huge hole Smith and the NT. At one point, Beatty drops his right hand to maintain his balance as Smith desperately tried to grab on to get himself in position to make a play…only to ultimately fail miserably. Beatty essentially let Smith hold him and as he tried to break free, Bradshaw was already in the hole and upfield before Smith knew what was going on.
If you have the game tivo’d or get so see it on replay, watch this sequence, it’s just pure run blocking goodness designed by Gilbride and Flaherty and carried out masterfully by Bennett, Beatty, Hynoski, Baas, Snee, Locklear and Boothe. A 23 yard run might not be a world beater, but on this play the Giants just completely out schemed a physical front 7 and left them wondering what if for the rest of the day.
Defensive Front 7:
After I speculated that the Giants went vanilla with their defense last week, sending very few blitzes and being content to go with their standard down linemen, New York came out and showed very different looks along the defensive front and tried a variety of different packages and blitzes. The results were outstanding. New York sacked QB Alex Smith six times (one a scramble out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage) and harassed him into some pretty awful throws.
San Francisco is a very well balanced offensive team and early on their running game was doing well which opened some things for Smith. After the Giants scored their second touchdown to open up a 14 point lead, Smith and the 49ers became more pass-oriented and committed back-to-back interceptions which led to six more Giants points. At that point, any threat of a running game was gone. On the day, the 49ers rushed for a total of 80 yards, but only 62 of those came from running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. The Giants held mercurial QB Colin Kaepernick to just 6 yards rushing despite the fact he got quite a few snaps on Sunday. It is important to note that 55 of San Francisco’s 80 rushing yards came in the first half.
The big changes in the front seven were not only who the Giants used (Adrian Tracy and Mathias Kiwanuka), but where they used them. Kiwanuka, who seemed to be an afterthought for most of the young season, saw 22 snaps at DE and another 15 at DT. Tracy saw a number of snaps from the outside linebacker position, a place I had not noticed him before. It’s easy to speculate that with DT Rocky Bernard being out another game, combined with the relative ineffectiveness of DTs Marcus Kuhn and Marvin Austin, facilitated this change, but it could be that the Giants simply wanted more athleticism at these spots against the strong 49er offensive line and running game. No matter the reason, it worked. The Giants also employed their mothballed NASCAR package for quite a few plays. DEs Kiwanuka, Tuck, Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora make up that particular package. It will be interesting going forward how the Giants will react to the obvious success, especially with DT Chris Canty coming back and the eventual return of Bernard.
Statistically, DTs Linval Joseph, and when he was in there Mathais Kiwanukab were disruptive. Both got a sack and were in on multiple tackles. One play in which JPP was playing right DT, he was plowed over by two 49ers and I thought for sure he wasn’t going to get up. The play resulted in a 13 yard gain by Gore, right up the hole where JPP was supposed to be. It was the first time I’ve seen JPP abused like that. JPP had a solid game besides that play, recording his first multi- sack game (2), three QB hits and he knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
The Giants also did a lot of substitution at linebacker, once again getting the whole crew involved in one way or another. Michael Boley played the entire game and tied for the team lead with six unassisted tackles.
Chase Blackburn again had a solid game and was in on five tackles. Spencer Paysinger and Keith Rivers all saw time as well. Rivers came in late in the fourth quarter.
The defensive backfield was very good on Sunday, picking off Alex Smith three times (Antrel Rolle twice, Prince Amukamara got one). Rolle also tied the team in tackles with six. After being called out by members of The Corner Forum over the last few weeks since S Kenny Phillips went down with a knee injury, Rolle has stepped up and dominated to the point where he was named “NFC Defensive Player of the Week” after this game. As good as Rolle’s interceptions were, he’s been reported to have keyed the play that resulted in Amukamara’s interception. The 49ers were giving the same look that they scored their second touchdown to Vernon Davis during the NFC Championship Game last year and re-routed Prince ON THE FLY to get under TE Delanie Walker. Amukamara looked like he was going to peel off to the middle to cover Mario Mannigham until Rolle pointed him over to Walker. FOXSports color-commentator Troy Aikman did think Rolle messed up on the deep completion to WR Randy Moss however where Amukumara was trailing on the play.
Speaking of Amukamara, he almost had another interception and did a great job all day in the defensive backfield. He’s coming on strong and now at seemingly full health the sky is truly the limit for this kid.
On the other side of the field, CB Corey Webster had a better day than he’s had in a while. He did get beat by WR Mario Manningham deep on one play that fortunately fell incomplete, but other than that, most of the throws against him were in front of him.
The Giants are a different, and better, team with CB Jayron Hosley playing the slot or third CB position. Hosley has been consistent and has helped solidify what was a shaky secondary early in the year.
S Stevie Brown has been a pleasant surprise since being inserted into the lineup due to an injury to Kenny Phillips. Brown again made outstanding plays in the box and is being used when the Giants do blitz. Brown is a slight liability in coverage, but was solid on Sunday.
It’s become clear that after six games, the special teams are a strength of this team. Returners David Wilson and Rueben Randle have been very good and they’re getting better. On Sunday, Wilson again set the Giants up with a short field on a long return that was sprung by a flat out awesome block by DT Marvin Austin. Austin absolutely leveled his man, clearing the middle of the field for Wilson.
The Giants coverage teams did an excellent job containing the dangerous San Francisco return teams. Coverages are sound with excellent gap control and they’re getting downfield fast. Michael Coe and Spencer Paysinger were standouts yesterday, but even the likes of Antrel Rolle were playing hard on specials.
Lawrence Tynes continues to mix up his kickoffs, keeping the opposition guessing. Tynes hit on three of four field goal attempts with one blocked. The block goes on TE Bear Pascoe, but it seemed it was more of an alignment problem than anything Pascoe actually did wrong.
The Giants benefited from a rare off day by PK David Akers, who missed two field goals.
I hate to bring it up, but there was another head-scratching moment this week when HC Tom Coughlin decided to call time out with 15 seconds left in the half prior to the blocked kick. When the Giants missed and San Francisco got the ball back with two time outs, they needed just one play and one time out to get into long field goal range. It’s puzzling why Coughlin didn’t milk the clock to 3-5 seconds seeing as it was fourth down when they attempted the kick.
How about the game called by DC Perry Fewell? As noted, the Giants had played a vanilla style defense for several weeks, ostensibly because of personnel issues due to injury. Fewell threw all that out this week and completely confused the 49ers and specifically Alex Smith, who never was able to find a solution to the unexpected looks. Great job by Fewell, excellent execution by the defense.
New York seems to be getting healthier on both sides of the ball, but did lose Da’Rel Scott to knee surgery, and Ahmad Bradshaw “has a foot” but there is no word on severity. The Giants could be shorthanded in the backfield this week against the Redskins if Bradshaw can’t go. The good news is that HB Andre Brown is not listed on the injury report and should be back in the lineup this week.
The Giants will get to see first hand just how good Robert Griffin…Bob…is this week. This is an extremely important game as the Giants do not want to go to 0-3 within the division. I stick to my belief that the Giants are the class of the NFC East and they have the opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and the pack this week. New York has a tough schedule and they will have to win at least three of their next four division games in order to have a good shot at winning the East.