Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR analysis and color commentator Gary Plummer is back again this year with his Points of the Game, a weekly online column that previews the upcoming opponent. Check out some of his views on Sunday's road game against the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants.**
I don't think the Giants need a wakeup call after they lost to the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football last week. I know that Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was upset about that, saying to the media 'Why do you need a wake-up call?' Teams like the Giants should be playing at 100 percent every play.
It's surprising that they lost, because the Giants haven't lost a road game dating back to last year. That's a long time. But it's just something that happens during the long grindof an NFL season, and they're probably going to be more intense in practice this week and pay more attention to detail.
I think for the Giants, everything starts with their quarterback Eli Manning.
He's a tough guy. Who knows if the injury he suffered against the Browns had anything to do with him playing poorly later in the game, but he has a week to recover. I think he'll be fine for the game.
Up until the Cleveland game, he was playing just like the MVP of last year's Super Bowl. He didn't play well at all against the Browns, partially because Cleveland got some pretty good pressure on him, and the Giants ended up playing from behind. That always changes the complexion of a game. In prior years to 2007, the New York media would have been all over Eli for a game like Monday night's, but the feeling is now that the game against Cleveland is atypical. They expect him to play well each week.
Manning's performances are always correlated with the success of his big wideout Plaxico Burress. I think that the matchup on Plaxico works well for the 49ers because Nate Clements does well against bigger receivers. Nate is a very physical guy at the line of scrimmage.
What has happened to the 49ers though is that when they focus on a someone like Burress or Randy Moss, there ends up being another guy that hurts them. I think another guy to be aware of is their third receiver Steve Smith. He really works underneath routes well.
One thing I've noticed since he got beaten in New Orleans is that Mark Roman is lining up a lot deeper and then backpedaling. That really opens up the dig routes and crossing routes behind the linebackers because he's farther back. So, Steve Smith is going to have to be a big focus for the 49ers inside linebackers — whether it's Takeo Spikes or Joe Staley. Roman also has to play with more confidence now. It's not a good thing when you're giving up 20-yard gains to a rookie wide receiver like DeSean Jackson.
The 49ers also have to be focused on stopping the running attack of the Giants, which is the best in the NFL. When you get a two-back system like the Giants use, a lot of times teams will run different plays for the two different backs. But New York runs the exact same plays for both Derrick Ward and Brandon Jacobs. They just run them differently.
You have Deuce McAllister plus 30 pounds in Brandon Jacobs. He's like a train that you don't really want to get in front of. You kind of want to jump on it from behind. Ward has really improved too. He looks like he's in much better shape and he looks quicker.
The problem is, you're going to see the exact same plays, but the change of pace dictates how you're going to play it. With Jacobs, you're going to be hurrying up to rush to the front side to get to Jacobs, because you obviously can't arm tackle a guy like that. You have to use your whole body. Ward is a slasher, but he also has the ability with his quickness to cut back. If you try to get to the front side that quickly on a guy like Ward, you're going to find yourself over-pursuing.
The 49ers need to be very cognizant of who is in the game.
Jacobs and Ward are so successful because the Giants have an experienced offensive line. In my opinion, it's the most important position group on the field in terms of teamwork.
Yes, it's important for defensive backs to communicate. Yes it's important for linebackers to all be on the same page. But offensive linemen work so close together in such a confined area that one little mistake by one guy can screw up the entire offensive line.
Not only is it the same starting offensive line, but all the backups are the same as well. These guys have done an incredible job protecting Eli Manning and opening up holes. They're not necessarily highly-touted guys. They're not big-time free agents. They're not No. 1 draft choices. They're just a bunch of hard-nosed guys who play well together, and that's a tough combination to beat.
Conversely for the 49ers offensive line, they won't have to worry about the retired future Hall of Famer in Michael Strahan or the injured Osi Umenyiora, but there are still some talented pass rushers on the Giants. You shouldn't compare them to the likes of Strahan and Umenyiora. That's like comparing apples and oranges because those guys had 20 plus combined sacks last year.
Obviously Justin Tuck did pretty darn well throughout the playoffs last year, but as a unit they've had only two sacks in the past two games. Teams are starting to figure out what it is that they're doing. The 49ers offensive line played much better last week, and a lot of the things I talked about in terms of how to handle Jim Johnson's blitz, the 49ers did.
Joe Staley's playing much better. You can help out Barry Sims on the other side by using Vernon Davis. You can use Vernon Davis as a pass blocker, as they did last week, but you don't have to do it 60 times a game. Use him half the time as a blocker and the other half on dump screens. One of the hot routes that you often see on blitzes is a little pop out to the tight end. I haven't seen that yet. The 49ers did try the throwback screen and Vernon would still be running had he been able to catch that ball. There were three guys in front of him and that was a sure touchdown, and it might have been the difference in the game.
I look for the 49ers to get Vernon involved early on, and obviously using the running game is a great way to slow the pass rush. Frank Gore running for more than 100 yards last week helped against the pass rush big time. For three quarters against Philadelphia, Mike Martz was brilliant. He was calm and literally put the defense on their heels, and I expect to see more of that this week.
The Giants got gashed on Monday Night for 144 yards, and that helped Derek Anderson to throw for more than 300 yards. I think that's a formula you want to mimic.
Aside from handling the pass rush, there are some other matchups I'm interested in watching.
One guy to be aware of is Antonio Pierce, the Giants middle linebacker. He's a lot like Takeo Spikes in terms of being a playmaker. He had a quadriceps bruise, and they weren't sure if he was able to play Monday night. He left briefly and came back in that game, but wasn't really effective. But he's a Pro Bowl player, and you have to watch out for him. In a one-on-one
matchup with Frank Gore, I'll take Frank Gore any day.
Another matchup I like is the 49ers wide receivers against the Giants secondary. It's really strange that the Giants have used a number of different guys in their secondary. You rarely see that many guys play in the NFL. You might think that means they're not happy. If the guys who were in there were playing well, then those four guys would stay in there — or five guys if you're in the nickel and six if you're in the dime. But, to have five guys rotate, that means they're not real happy with any of them.
One of their cornerbacks, Aaron Ross struggled mightily against Braylon Edwards — who ended up with more than 100 yards on Monday night.
In New York last year, it was absolutely ugly to watch Trent Dilfer get pummeled, but that was the strategy the Giants used to defend against the pass. But this is not the same New York Giants defense right now. The secondary isn't as good because the pass rush isn't as good.
Even though they're the reigning Super Bowl champions, it's not the same team we saw playing in February of this year. This is a beatable team, and the 49ers absolutely need to beat them.