We're not even midway through the regular season, and this is an NFC game that should echo a playoff-type atmosphere. This will be a very physical, hard-fought game between two title contenders, and in a lot of ways, it will be personal for both sides.
It was the Giants that pointed out the 49ers' flaws, causing their eventual fall, inches within a Super Bowl appearance. It made San Francisco approach this past offseason with an emphasis on offense; they even went ahead signed two of the Giants' offensive players.
This was a game the 49ers circled when the schedule was released.
Activate Brandon Jacobs
If there was ever a game this season the team would activate Jacobs, it should be this one.
The big, bruising running back was signed this year, having left the New York Giants after the two failed to see eye-to-eye on Jacobs’ value. There was a semi-confrontational parting between him and the Giants that left Jacobs a little sour.
The new 49ers back has yet to be active for a game this season, having sustained a knee injury in an exhibition match vs. the Houston Texans.
Not only is Jacobs hungry for live game action, but also clamoring for a shot at the Giants. And with the way the 49ers are running the football this year, Jacobs’ presence could vault this ground attack to another level...however implausible that may seem.
Break Out the WildKap
In case you haven't noticed, the 49ers have been disproving and reestablishing some league philosophies. First, the saying that, “if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks.” And the second is that the wildcat package is dead and gone.
49ers second-year QB Colin Kaepernick has been a very real offensive threat for San Francisco, while Alex Smith is currently leading the NFL in passer rating (108.7) and QBR (81.9). The Niners can put either quarterback on the field and expect production in some form or another.
Since the package, termed the “WildKap,” has been working so well, it would be a great way to combat this fly-around defensive front of the Giants on Sunday. Kaepernick has been working proficiently in read-option plays, having scored twice already while averaging 10.6 yards per attempt.
The offense can deploy their version of the wildcat to wear down Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and company. The Niners can be physical with them, but at the same time, challenge the speed of the front seven.
With the WildKap, the 49ers can keep the defense off balance, show their ingenuity on offense and generate big plays.
Make the Giants One-Dimensional
The Giants are the No. 12 rushing team, though, those stats are a bit inflated due to Ahmad Bradshaw’s monstrous day against the Cleveland Browns in Week 5.
New York’s rushing attack has not been terribly impressive this year and is far from the elite product San Francisco fields on game day. The 49ers have only recently struggled against top rushing attacks with proficient runners, like Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson.
The Niners can take away the run, flooding the gaps with their All-Pro linebackers. San Francisco’s outside defenders also do a great job setting the edge and containing the run. The 49ers need to shut down the Giants run game early, and force them to be one-dimensional.
They can also help make the G-Men one-dimensional by securing an early lead and making them play from behind. A one-horse show by the Giants could lead to more three-and-outs as the game progresses.
San Francisco’s defense has also been dominant when they’ve gotten opposing offenses to abandon the run.
Hammer Eli Manning, But Respect the Pass
The 49ers need to prepare for Eli Manning as if he’s an elite quarterback. Regardless of how up-and-down the Giants play during the regular season, Manning is a two-time Super Bowl Champion and the current reigning one.
The 49ers can and should attempt to get pressure with four at a time. Whether the defense is coming out of their base package, nickel or other variation, the Niners would benefit from penetrating the Giants offensive line with as few rushers as possible.
San Francisco needs to get guys in the backfield, causing disruption. The QB pressures and hits will add up, even if Manning keeps firing till late in the fourth quarter. The rush needs to remain constant, and the Niners can lean on guys like Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks in that aspect.
This is not to say Vic Fangio shouldn’t send the occasional blitz, with a guy like Carlos Rogers or Patrick Willis, but with more of an emphasis respecting Manning as a passer and trying to not get burned by him.
This will also be a game where the defensive linemen should be getting hands up, attempting to bat balls at the line of scrimmage.
Establish Offensive Flow, Creativity
In the four games the 49ers have won this season, creativity and superb play calling has made them look dominant. After finishing 2011 ranked 26th on offense, the Niners have since jumped 20 spots, sitting comfortable at No. 6 in the NFL.
By not limiting the playbook and being innovative on the offensive side of the football, the 49ers have been steamrolling opponents. In five games this year, San Francisco has averaged 29.8 points per game, seeing highs of 45 and lows of 27 in four victories.
They are one of the most balanced offenses in the league right now. And getting everyone involved is something they’ve done that has led to that success.
They’ve employed a lot of trickery and sleight of hand, leading to some very nice gainers this season. The misdirection fly-sweeps to Mario Manningham, read-options and QB keepers have been keeping defensive coordinators up at night.
This pertains to everything: individual downs, quarters, halves and everything in between.
The Giants are one of the teams that necessitate a full effort from their opponent. The Niners would do well to finish strong in everything they do...approaching each down like it’s their last.
From a fundamental standpoint, the 49ers need to finish their tackles, runs and blocks. They need to beat their opponent to the punch and be domineering at the point of attack. San Francisco’s high-handed approach for four quarters of play will keep them in this game throughout.
Furthermore, the Niners need to beware Eli Manning in the fourth quarter. He has been responsible for an awful lot of last-minute upsets and tends to perform extremely well under pressure.
This one won’t be over until it’s over.
Continue Ball Distribution Amongst Wide Receivers
We’ve gotten this far and still haven’t really talked about Alex Smith.
One could argue Smith is en route to a Pro Bowl caliber year, having thrown eight touchdowns to one interception in five games. In that span, he has had a 100-plus passer rating in three outings.
What has been great about the 49ers quarterback’s illuminating career resurgence now, is that he is finally finding his wide receivers in the passing game. The Niners receiving corps had a terrible year in 2011, and it was all highlighted in their loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship.
In his most recent outing, Alex Smith completed 12-of-14 attempts to wide receivers for 189 yards and three touchdowns.
Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss have all played important contributing roles to the 49ers new-look receiving corps. Each one is a talented player at his position, having all shined at different times for San Francisco this year.
But at last, Michael Crabtree seems to have finally broken down the wall between him and excellence. He is the No. 1 wideout in San Francisco’s passing attack, on pace for a 1,000-yard season – something the franchise has been without since 2003.
As a pass-catcher, blocker, chain-mover and clutch performer, Crabtree has been great this season.
The Giants will be facing a completely different team in Week 6. The 49ers will have to make them defend everyone by distributing the ball well on offense. They need to make it overwhelming for them. They can also do this by utilizing every inch of the field to offensive advantage, stretching the defense vertically and horizontally.
Smith needs to continue connecting with his wide receivers, making the Giants defense forget about Vernon Davis.
Take the Ball Away
San Francisco’s defensive unit has made quite the mark as the takeaway champs in the league.
According to Team Rankings, the 49ers are a top-10 team taking the football away. They average 2.0 per game in 2012 and have been heating up in the past few games.
Also, the carryover from 2011 is visible: out of the top-10 teams, San Francisco out-gained everyone significantly last year (2.4) and are once again in the tops of that category.
In that aspect, the unit performs on a consistent basis. They make a living attacking the football; ripping at it, stripping it, lurking and intercepting.
The 49ers need to continue to play hard and to the whistle. The hard hitting must be there against the Giants.
They need to make the Giants have one of their notorious multi-turnover games, because this year the Niners have shown they can capitalize on offense.
Limit Giants’ Home Run Plays
The Manning-led Giants have one of the top offenses in the league so far in 2012. The unit has been able to produce big plays and put points on the board pretty efficiently this year. With a versatile receiving corps, New York has been able to hit the deep ball to a number of players.
However, the team is hurting at that position and will be without Hakeem Nicks. It will be up to the Niners to focus their attention to containing the ever-explosive Victor Cruz. At the same time, they have to beware the sleeper receivers like Ramses Barden, Domenik Hixon and Rueben Randle.
The San Francisco defense has done a good job limiting big plays, but they will have to bring their A-game and not get caught sleeping against this Giants team.
Test Injured Giants Secondary
With Terrell Thomas out for the season, the Giants are moving forward with Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara.
Amukamara is still a young player, learning the ropes of the NFL and could be a mismatch for an up-and-coming Niners receiving corps. Alex Smith should look to expose the depth of the Giants secondary, by utilizing his long list of playmakers.
San Francisco cannot hesitate to pass against this Giants defense on Sunday. Especially with the way things ended in 2011, the 49ers must be dying to make a statement by blowing up the New York secondary with another huge day offensively.