I took a look back for the first time at the Giants-Niners NFC Championship Game from a year ago. At the time, I was down in Mobile, AL focusing on the week of Senior Bowl practices, and I never got around to re-watching. I thought the Niners outplayed the Giants. They got pressure all day, they were able to run the ball effectively, and they had a number of opportunities down the field, some of which they connected on, some they didn’t. Obviously, the Giants were able to capitalize on two major gaffes by PR Kyle Williams. Credit to the Giants for not making any major mistakes, and for getting a huge day out of Victor Cruz and (when he actually got some time to throw) Eli Manning. Some notes from that game (with a focus on the Niners), applied to the upcoming matchup this Sunday:
• For years, 49ers DE Justin Smith was viewed as an elite player in the eyes of teams around the NFL, and it took some time for the general fan population to catch up. The same is beginning to hold true for Ray McDonald, the “other” Niners DE. In the NFC Championship Game last season, the Giants couldn’t block McDonald. He had 2.5 sacks, a FF that the Giants were fortunate to recover, and constant pressure all day.
To be more accurate, I should say that the Giants couldn’t block anybody that day, but McDonald stood out. The Giants gave up a ton of pressure all season long in 2011, but here is a quick breakdown of the hits and pressures allowed in each of the Giants’ 20 games last season, according to Pro Football Focus. In the graphic to the right, note how much pressure the Niners put on Eli Manning in the NFC Championship Game.
When Manning actually had time to throw, he picked the Niners apart.
• Vernon Davis killed the Giants last season. I think people already know that Vernon Davis is a physically gifted TE, but I actually think it’s understated. Here were Davis’ numbers at the 2006 NFL Combine:
- 4.38 in the 40.
- 42 inch vertical jump.
- 10’8″ broad jump.
- 33 reps in the bench press.
And he’s 6’3, 250. Take a look at his long TD to get the score to 7-0 in the NFC Championship Game last year. There’s nothing complicated about this play whatsoever. Davis runs a very simple wheel route here, blows right past Antrel Rolle (who may have been sitting on a shorter route), and easily outruns Deon Grant to the end zone. Later he burned Kenny Phillips on the other side with a double move. He faked an out route, which Phillips had covered, but then broke up field and got open in the end zone. Kenny Phillips still has not practiced this week, and Antrel Rolle’s knee is still banged up. Davis could be a humongous matchup issue for the Giants on Sunday.
• It seemed like the Giants were sitting on the shorter routes all day during that game. Here was a play Alex Smith wishes he had back. Kyle Williams is running a deep post. At his break, he executes a little stutter step, which Corey Webster and Kenny Phillips both bite on:
Williams then splits the defenders and gets a good two yards behind them, but Smith overshoots his receiver:
Major missed opportunity by San Francisco here. People think of the 49ers as a smashmouth football team that likes to run the ball and play good defense. To a large degree that’s true. But they’ll also lull you to sleep and take shots down the field.
Here’s another wheel route that could have worked. TE Delanie Walker is going to run to the sideline at the snap, with the inside TE and WR running a deep in and post respectively:
CB Corey Webster gets a jam on the WR coming off the line:
Webster will then turn to try to cover the flat:
But Walker has already turned up field, and Webster cannot recover in time as Walker runs by him.
That was there. Unfortunately for the Niners on this play, they couldn’t keep Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck away from Alex Smith long enough to let this play develop. Still, it’s another example of how the Niners like their wheel routes and double moves.
• Victor Cruz ate Carlos Rogers’ lunch that day. Rogers really struggled when Cruz lined up in the slot. Hakeem Nicks still hasn’t participated in practice yet (Correction: He practiced today for the first time in two weeks), and I think that is a major advantage for the Niners. If Nicks is out, the Niners can allocate more resources to slowing down Cruz. I doubt you’ll see a lot of straight man-to-man out of San Fran on Cruz this time around.
• The Niners were able to run the ball effectively. They didn’t get any big runs, but they were able to get 150 yards on 28 carries (5.4 YPC). The Giants, meanwhile, looked similar running the football to the way they ran it all year. 26 for 85 (3.3). The Giants have 8 defenders listed on the injury report. The longer that group has to stay on the field, the more likely they’ll have to substitute in “back of the roster” kinds of players. The Giants have to stop the run this week. If they can’t, the Niners are going to run play action, keep the pass rush at bay, and burn the Giants with double moves.
• In the preseason, I noted a nifty little running play the Giants tried where they faked a run to the strong side, had a couple TEs pull from across the formation to the weak side, and then have the RB reverse field and follow the pulling TEs. It looked like this:
Yeah, well, it looks like they stole that play from the Niners in the NFC Championship Game, because it burned them for a 19 yard gain in crunch time:
• Kyle Williams.