After lots of fun and smart back and forth with some classy 49'ers fans, a couple of things are standing out for me about this coming game. I'll jump right in:
The Giants' Run Defense
The Giants have been bad against the run this year, but there are reasons for that, and reasons why that may not be as much the case against San Francisco and the beast that is Frank Gore.
Why has the run defense been weak so far? Follow me through the series of ripple effects on the run D:Injuries in the beginning of the season took out the excellent run stopping defensive audible caller, MLB Jonathan Goff. Plus, early season injuries to Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora required Mathias Kiwanuka to play more DE. That meant we had either rookie OLB Jacquian Williams or rookie MLB Greg Jones out there in the base nickel the Giants played all season (more on that in a minute).
Those rookies have high motors but are prone to overpursuit, loss of gap control and mistakes. That led to some big plays on the ground. Michael Boley had to learn suddenly to make the defensive reads and audibles, and the rookies had trouble making adjustments. They just ran at what they saw.
Okay, so about that base nickel: the Giants faced pass first teams all season, so they didn't play much base 4-3. That weakens the run defense, but the calculation was they would limit the big play down field in the air. Once the defense settled down a little as the season progressed, they've become progressively better limiting the big pass play, a problem they had to address from last year. But you can't defend everything, especially when you're short handed. The run defense suffered.
But the 49'ers are not a pass first team. They are a run first team. The Giants will probably mix in more base 4-3, plus they have Tuck, Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul. and Dave Tollefson in rotation at DE, with Kiwanuka restored to his swing role at DE and OLB. That's a much more potent rotation of depth to stop the run.
Michael Coe was able to contribute at CB against Brady last week, and with Prince Amukamara likely to be in the rotation for his debut, that will also free up Anrel Rolle to play more safety and run stopping duty, maybe shadowing Gore. Rolle excels in that type of role. Plus, Fewell has started playing Deon Grant closer to the line in the 3 safety nickel set, and he does better there. With other guys getting healthy, Grant can see fewer snaps and stay sharper, too.
So, those are all reasons to think the Giants performance so far against the run might not be the perfect measure of what to expect this weekend against Alex Smith and Frank Gore.
Reasons the Giants Could Blow It
They're coming off an emotional win and have to travel out west. They could see a letdown.
They have to prove they can play at a consistent, high level for 16 games, which they haven't done as much as we Giants fans would like (though they did win 10 games last year, after all).
The Giants always have the ability to lose discipline and beat themselves.
Alex Smith is not passing a lot but he is passing well, and smart.
Frank Gore is a beast.
The 49'ers have a great defense and Harbaugh has them playing very good, disciplined fundamental football, in a style that Giants fans who remember teams of yore should love. They have great LB's and are very hard to run against, even if everything on the execution side is going great for the Giants (and it hasn't been all year).
The Giants have been cruising on clutch play on Eli's shoulders but he is human and he could have a bad game.
The 49'ers are very good at forcing turnovers, and the Giants haven't been blowing anyone out. The G-Men can't afford to lose the turnover battle if they expect to win against a very tough team on the road.
No effing clue. But I will be drinking.
How's that for a sure bet?