Former 49ers linebacker and now 49ers Radio Network Analyst Gary Plummer is back with his latest Points of the Game column. This week, Plummer highlights some of the aspects of the 49ers game against the New York Giants.
With the Giants playing on Monday night and the 49ers coming off a bye week, San Francisco could have more of an advantage since they've had more time to prepare for this game. Unfortunately there is a lot to prepare for, since the Giants are a tough team that is playing well right now, indicative of their four-game winning streak.
Defensively, it starts up front for New York. Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan are the first guys people think of, but you also have Mathias Kiwanuka with 4.5 sacks and Justin Tuck with 5.5 sacks. These guys have a combined 21 sacks through six games which leads the entire NFL.
They are going to put pressure on the 49ers from all over the place with different blitzes, but mostly the Giants rely on their front four. The Giants get enough pressure from that group that they are not forced to blitz to put pressure on the quarterback. They can instead sit back and play zone defense, and that allows a defensive coordinator a chance to do a lot more.
The 49ers offensive line played better in the last game against the Ravens as a unit, but rest assured the Giants will look at those six first half sacks that the line gave up against Seattle and will be salivating. They will likely come out and run stunts and the same blitzes that Seattle used.
The 49ers can't just use a max protect scheme all game long with only two guys out on routes. You can't win that way. That's where it becomes a chess game between Jim Hostler and their defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. There are times even in a blitz where you don't want to max protect. One of the things you can do is run a screen, which is something the 49ers haven't been able to run effectively yet. A lot of it has to do with timing and hopefully that is something that was been worked out in the bye week. The screens don't always have to go to the running back, and I think getting Vernon Davis back will be big because he has been very effective on tight end screens and speed screens to wide receivers.
The Giants have a player in Aaron Ross who has had 3 interceptions in the last two games. Ross is a rookie. He's been a gambler, but it has paid off in the last couple of weeks. Sam Madison is a guy who has been around forever. R.W. McQuarters is a former 49ers first round pick. Really for their secondary, they don't have to be great because they get so much pressure up front, so if the 49ers line does their job up front, there will be one on one match ups for the 49ers receivers. For the offense to have success, what has to happen is that the 49ers wide receivers have to start winning the one on one matchups, because nine times out of ten, when you're getting blitzed, it's going to mean man to man coverage in the secondary. I know it's easy to say it's the line's responsibility or the quarterback's responsibility, but it's every bit the receivers and tight ends' responsibility to get open and give the quarterback an option.
One thing I definitely expect to be a change after last week's bye is the use of Ashley Lelie. It's been painfully obvious to outsiders that the absence of Lelie on the field has hurt the team. I don't care if he runs one route all day and it's a go route, put him in there. He runs that go route and they're going to have to cover him which should loosen up some things underneath. Somehow you have to loosen that secondary up. There's no simple easy answer to that, but it can be done.
You see teams like Seattle and Baltimore that just dink and dunk it. Why are they effective and the 49ers aren't? Just going back and looking at some of those game tapes should give the 49ers an idea of what to do.
Especially against a team like this that has such a good pass rush, you aren't going to be able to take a lot of five and seven step drops because you are going to have four guys in your face. So you have to pick your spots with the play action pass and having guys going deep on man to man press coverage on the outside. That's where someone like Ashley can come in and help your team. Vernon Davis was a guy who has been saying he felt like if he were in the game, he could have made a difference. Now, he should have a chance to show that if he does return to action this week.
For the 49ers defense, they've got to contend with Kevin Gilbride and his offensive scheme. Gilbride is a power, smash mouth football guy. He's going to run a lot of power plays, some counter plays, and a lot of lead plays to fit the type of running backs he has.
He's also going to use a lot of play action. Play action passes are a good protection for the deep passes. It tends to freeze the linebackers and opens things up in those 18 yard areas. Look for a lot of intermediate and deep throws off a play action pass.
Plaxico Burress is averaging about 17 yards a catch, so they will definitely go down the field with him. It will be another one of those interesting battles for Nate Clements. If you watch him all season long, you can see he has brought an attitude to the defense. I would love to see him matched up with Plaxico the entire game. Sometimes that can change things for you schematically. Plaxico is leading the NFL in touchdowns with eight and has caught a touchdown every game, and he isn't even practicing as he's dealing with an ankle problem. Yet he and Eli Manning have great chemistry. If you look at Plaxico, he is 6-5, 235. He looks tall and skinny, but at 235 pounds he is every bit as big a receiver as a Terrell Owens. Having a guy like Nate who is so physical, you have to jam him. You have to disrupt his release and timing. With his long strides, it is easy for him to get down field and the best way to stop him from doing that is to get a good jab in on the line of scrimmage. I can't think of anybody better in the 49ers secondary at doing that than Nate.
Jeremy Shockey is another guy the 49ers must be prepared for this week. He's a guy like Vernon Davis who can really create mismatches for you. I think Joe Staley is fast enough to stay with him, and in fact can run circles around him. Shockey is a guy who has been around a while and he's very good at pushing off, so it will be interesting to see if he uses some of those veteran moves on a rookie. Being as big and physical as he is, he's a tough match up for a safety, but Michael Lewis has played against him for five years in the NFC East. He's seen Shockey twice a year, so if anyone knows how to cover him, Michael Lewis does. I'd expect either of those guys to be used to defend this tight end threat.
The Giants take a lot of pride in being the blue collar type of players and that is most clear up front. If you look at the offensive line individually, they aren't great players, but they play extremely well together and they are getting the job done in both the run and the pass. They've only given up 6 sacks in 6 games.
Brandon Jacobs is supposed to be the guy, but Derrick Ward leads the team in yards, carries, and average because Jacobs has been hurt and has only played in three games. Jacobs, when he is in there, is averaging over 5 yards a carry. They also have Rueben Droughns who is averaging almost 5 yards a carry. So it's not a one two punch that New York has in the run game. It's a one, two, three punch. Those guys are also much different backs, although their one common trait is that they are all very physical.
Field position has been huge all season long for the 49ers, who have one of the best punters in the league right now in Andy Lee. He's had at least four punts over 60 yards this year and he has not out kicked his coverage. The punt coverage unit has done an amazing job and that's tough to do because a lot of times you're expecting a 50 yard punt and when something travels 60 or 70 yards, it changes angles and everything else. That has not slowed the 49ers coverage unit and I expect that to continue to be a plus for this team.
The Giants have had trouble with return men. The opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown against the Jets a couple weeks ago. Their punter is only averaging 41 yards a punt which could give Michael Lewis some chances this week.
The Giants also don't have great returners. They are averaging only 7 yards per punt return and they are nothing like what the 49ers have faced with the other teams already this season, so that should be an advantage for the 49ers.
Any time you go on the road, you always want to pack a dependable defense and special teams, and the 49ers have done that for the most part this year.