Without a doubt Sunday’s game against the Giants will be the biggest test of the season so far for the 49ers. Even with a 7-1 record the 49ers still have their detractors and non-believers. A lot of this I think has to do with Alex Smith at quarterback. The detractors concede the 49ers have a brutal defense, good special teams and powerful running game. But they cannot get past the fact that Smith is at quarterback because when the time comes for the 49ers to rely on him to win a game, he will not deliver.
The 49ers are favored to win by three points but most “experts” are picking the Giants to win because they think it will come down to a game-winning drive, and if it’s Alex Smith, the 49ers lose. Those who don’t think Smith can lead a game-winning drive gloss over the comeback win against the Eagles in week four when Smith lead the 49ers to three straight touchdowns drives to erase a 20-point lead for the win. Or they overlook Smith’s game-winning touchdown drive in week six against the Lions. The 49ers may not rely on Smith during the game to make big plays but if the offense needs to pass to win a game Jim Harbaugh is not afraid to lean on Smith. Don’t expect the game against the Giants to be any different.
Here are five things to watch out for:
49ers Rush Defense
The most vital part of the 49ers defense is the front-seven. The 49ers defense can clog running lanes to free up middle linebackers NaVarro Bowman and Patrick Willis to pursue the running back. Bowman and Willis have 129 tackles combined and lead a rush defense that ranks number one against the run and has not given up 100 rushing yards in a game or a rushing touchdown this season. The defense will completely take away the Giants running game making them one-dimensional.
Starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw is out of the game with a broken ankle. This plays into the 49ers advantage as backup Brandon Jacobs has only 198 rushing yards on 60 carries this season. Another starter wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is questionable with a hamstring injury. Nicks is the Giants number one receiver with 37 catches for 575 yards and three touchdowns this season. Even if Nicks suits up and plays he will be limited in his production. Opposite wide receiver Mario Manning is also questionable with a knee injury. With so many injuries to the Giants on offense the 49ers will limit the yards the team gains which in turn should give the 49ers offense great starting field position.
Jim Harbaugh’s Biggest Game
We all know of the continued lack of respect for the 49ers this season. Not even a 7-1 record and wins over playoff quality teams gets the 49ers respect. Harbaugh has been talking about this all season and how there is a lack of attention from sports shows acknowledging the 49ers and their success. I bet Harbaugh is using this as motivational tactic for Sunday’s game. This will be Harbaugh’s biggest game of his rookie season so far, and he knows what a win over the Giants will bring to the 49ers, respect. Harbaugh and his coaches will not hold anything back so we can expect a few tricks and surprises that will catch the Giants off-guard.
Frank Gore’s Big Rushing Day
My bold prediction for the game is Frank Gore will have his biggest rushing game of the season with at least 150 yards against the Giants. The Giants rush defense ranks 24th in the NFL and has given up over 100 yards to running backs in the last six games. The 49ers will lean on the rushing game as usual but a little more so in such a big game. The 49ers will want to go with their strength which is running the football to wear out the defense.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has set up the running game to be cable of rushing for long yards. The 49ers have 11 rushing plays of 20 yards or more with Gore recording five of those carries. The Giants defense has given up seven rushing plays of 20 yards or more.
Giants Pass Offense:
With Bradshaw missing his second straight game and the 49ers rush defense mentioned above, the Giants will mostly be passing in Sunday’s game. Eli Manning has shown he can win games by mostly passing but the quarterback will be facing his hardest test of the season. Manning will need to throw quickly to beat the 49ers fast pass rush but he will need to pass carefully as the 49ers secondary is greatly improved compared to previous seasons. Led by CB Carlos Rogers the secondary is number one in passes defended. When you combine that with injures to the wide receivers, the 49ers limiting yards after the catch and the rushing game, the Giants will be a shaky one-dimensional offense.
49ers 25 Giants 18
It will be a close game all day with the 49ers defense shutting down a last minute drive by Manning and the Giants offense. With Gore having such a big rushing day it will open up the passing game for Alex Smith who will have 250 passing yards and two touchdown passes. The 18-points for the Giants will be six field goals kicked as the 49ers defense shuts out the Giants offense.