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Steve Weatherford, New York Giants (January 22, 2012)

Steve Weatherford – © USA TODAY Sports Images

San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants, November 16, 2014

The New York Giants once promising three-game winning streak seems like a far distant memory as the 2014 season is beginning to seemed headed for a very familiar path. With the San Francisco 49ers coming to MetLife Sunday afternoon, a loss could all but eliminate the Giants from postseason contention for a third consecutive year.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can Odell Beckham Jr. continue to be special?
Odell Beckham Jr. is looking like he could be arguably the best player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft. In his last two games, Beckham has 254 receiving yards and, despite playing in just five games overall, could become the Giants leading receiver this week.  The 49ers are another tough task defensively, especially if Aldon Smith dresses. How will Beckham play?

Second Down
Can Rashad Jennings make an impact if he returns?
Since Rashad Jennings suffered a knee sprain versus the Atlanta Falcons, the Giants have yet to win a game. Andre Williams has shown promise, but is far from a feature back at this point in his career. Peyton Hillis is what he is and Michael Cox is now on injured reserve. When Rashad Jennings left the Giants lineup, so to did their rushing attack. Jennings is expected to return this Sunday, but will he make an impact? He hasn’t played in a month. How much can he handle?

The Giants have been known, at least as of late, to not baby players in their first game back (i.e., Beckham and Andre Brown). Will the Giants lean on Jennings heavily as well?

Jason Pierre-Paul (90), Justin Tuck (91), New York Giants (January 22, 2012)

Pierre-Paul and Tuck – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Third Down
Where is Jason Pierre-Paul?
This is Jason Pierre-Paul’s contract season. The season where players normally break out. While Pierre-Paul has been stout against the run, the fierce pass-rushing, unblockable, first-team All-Pro from 2011 still hasn’t taken the field. He’s flashed, sure, but has yet to do it on a consistent basis. This season, he’s on pace for under seven sacks (6.2).

Fourth Down
Can the defense stop the read option?
It’s coming, you can better believe that. Back when Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, he did it by unleashing the read option. If anything, the Seattle Seahawks, who ran for 350 yards against New York last week, learned a thing or two from San Fran. Kaepernick is faster than Russell Wilson and is a better runner. Can Perry Fewell’s defense keep him contained? If not, New York has very little chance to win.

BREAKING DOWN SAN FRANCISCO:

OFFENSE – by Connor Hughes
Strength?
While Kaepernick hasn’t taken the “next step” as an elite passer in the NFL, it isn’t for lack of targets. Be it the receivers, or tight end, the 49ers have some of the best weapons in the NFL. At Kaepernick’s disposal this year are Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and Vernon Davis.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should be able to handle whomever he lines up from, but those after? The Giants cornerback position, which was once one of the deepest in the NFL, is dangerously thin. Not to mention, who will cover TE Vernon Davis?

While the game plan will be to shut down the 49ers running game, containing the pass is another must for New York. If one gets going, the other is sure to follow. The Giants can’t put a ton of small bodies on the field because the 49ers will then run the ball. They can’t come out in their base constantly as the 49ers will pass.

Sunday is a very, very tough test for the Giants.

Weakness?
Since dazzling the NFL his first year seeing extensive action, Kaepernick has struggled at times with San Francisco. His decision making has been questionable, his accuracy subpar and Kaepernick has struggled getting off his first read.

Kaepernick has thrown 13 interceptions in his last 25 games. He completed 58 percent of his passes last year, and 61.9 this year. He’s averaged just 7.69 and 7.50 yards per completion sine 2010.

DEFENSE by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
A week after playing the NFL’s 4th-best defense, it doesn’t getting any easier this week with the Giants facing the 3rd-best defense in terms of yards allowed (5th against pass and 7th against the run). The strength of this 3-4 defense team remains the front seven with stalwarts such as LDE Ray McDonald, RDE Justin Smith, and outside linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith. Rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland has been exceptional.

That all said, don’t discount the secondary. The safeties have been excellent. Free safety Eric Reid is fast developing into one of the best in the game. Ex-Colt strong safety Antoine Bethea is having an excellent season.

Weakness?
It’s not so much a “weakness” as the corners simply are not as strong as other areas of the defense. Also, the 49ers lost their nose tackle last week, but Glenn Dorsey returns this week after a preseason biceps injury.

The biggest weakness to date has been the 49ers are 25th in the NFL in sacks. Getting Aldon Smith back from suspension should improve their pass rush however.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Colin Kaepernick
While not as efficient as a passer, Kaepernick is a far better runner than Seattle’s Russell Wilson. After struggling against Seattle, how will the Giants defend Kaepernick? It’ll be an interesting test for the Giants and it’ll be fun to watch how Fewell elects to defend it.

Eric Kennedy –
Rashad Jennings
For the Giants to have a chance in this game, the need the running game to be more productive. That will be difficult against one of the NFL’s best run defenses. Plus Jennings is still not 100 percent and likely to be rusty. Still, he should be a shot in the arm to the offense and might make a bigger impact as a receiver.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin – “(The 49ers) are going to run. That is their deal. They are going to set things up with the run. You have to be very, very good and very, very strong. We need turnovers. We need field position.”

Jim Harbaugh – “(Against the Seahawks, the Giants) got hit on a couple quarterback-sucker plays and a few zone-read keepers by the quarterback that amounted to some big yardage. I anticipate that will be fixed by the time we play.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – It’s truly mind-boggling how injury depleted the Giants have been over the last few years, but this year is even more than most. The Giants are without nearly half their starting lineup and truthfully, I don’t believe they have enough to stick with San Francisco for four quarters.  New York will keep it close, but in the end, the 49ers pull it out. San Fransisco 28 – New York 20.

Eric Kennedy – It makes little sense to pick the Giants in this spot but I think New York rebounds with a win this week. I expect the 49ers to come into this game overconfident, and two back-to-back cross-country road trips should take some life out of them. The San Francisco win against the Saints in New Orleans was impressive, but the 49ers have been a bit shaky this year. Much depends on which version of Colin Kaepernick shows up. When he is “on”, he can make some unbelievable throws, especially outside of the pocket. But when Kaepernick is “off”, he can be really bad. Pray for the latter this weekend. Giants 24 – 49ers 13.

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Connor Hughes/BBI

Connor Hughes has been working in both the broadcasting and journalism fields for the last seven years. His work has been heard on WMCX, WBZC and Lenape District Television, while read on the pages of The Star-Ledger and The Burlington County Times. Connor can be reached via email ([email protected]) or on twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes)

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