|A lovely member of the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush graces our page this week.|
The San Francisco 49ers are up next for the surging New York Giants. Getting right down to business, here is this week's '5 Questions' segment -- this time with 'Fooch' from Niners Nation.
BBV: What is Alex Smith's status for this week? There are reports that he may play. So, will he or won't he?
Niners Nation: It sounds like he'll be listed as questionable when the injury report comes out, but if practice goes well, he'll be starting. He threw 100 passes over the weekend with Billy Bajema (our backup tight end) and he's experiencing soreness in his forearms, but the shoulder seems fine. As of late last week he rated his strength as back up to 90%. Equally as important though, is the news that Vernon Davis is feeling good and expected back at practice Wednesday and starting Sunday. More will be known late Wednesday or early Thursday on both their status. While we obviously want Smith back, VD ("The Disease" as he's known at Niners Nation) might be more important for the offense. The offense was starting to come together in the Pittsburgh game (in spite of the loss) and before going down, Davis was a big reason for that.
BBV: The 49ers were a trendy pick to win the NFC West after all the off-season acquisitions they made. At 2-3 they are off to a slow start. Other than Smith's injury, can you pinpoint a reason?
NN: The biggest reason for the slow start is the offensive line's performance, or lack there of. The line was a strength a year ago and now it's the biggest weakness on the team. The most consistent performer has been rookie Joe Staley. Eric Heitmann does not appear to be fully recovered from his broken leg last year and Larry Allen appears to finally be hitting the wall. It's possible the team will rotate in some of the younger guys like Dave Baas and Tony Wragge who performed well last year when Heitman went down. The play-calling of Jim Hostler has been rather conservative and bland, but if the offensive line were performing as fans were expecting, the play-calling wouldn't be an issue. Gore can't hit holes that aren't there and Smith/Dilfer haven't had time to make things happen through the air. If the line can come together, the rest of the offense will quickly follow. The team spent much of the bye week trying to figure out the offensive issues, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out on the field.
BBV: The Giants have become a blitzing, attacking, all out pressure the quarterback type of defense. How will the 49ers handle the Giants pass rush?
NN: The team is expected to use more shotgun formations, even though it tends to give up the threat of the run. Alex Smith played in the spread offense at Utah and spent most of his college career in the shotgun, so hopefully that will help him make things happen in the face of the Giants impressive pass rush. If the Giants leave 7 or 8 men in the box, I'd like to hope the 49ers use more play action, but they (the 49ers) have not done that nearly enough in my opinion, and in the opinion of the rest of the fans. Additionally, Smith is a guy who can use his legs to make things happen. His weakness there is that he can get happy feet and he has poor accuracy when he's throwing off his back foot.
BBV: What 49ers players should Giants fans watch out for? In particular, guys we may not know about over here on the East Coast?
NN: Two words: Patrick Willis.As a #1 pick much has been expected of him, and he's more than delivered. Coming off the bye week Willis is 5th in the NFL in total tackles and the four guys ahead of him have played an extra game. You'll see Willis all over the field on Sunday and I guarantee he makes at least one spectacular play in bringing a running back down in the backfield or for a minimal gain. He's got speed to burn and he uses it to his advantage. Another guy I personally like is wide receiver Arnaz Battle, the former Notre Dame QB. It's taken him time to learn how to be a receiver, but he is turning into a very solid possession receiver who simply doesn't drop the ball. He doesn't have a ton of speed and thus won't make a ton of big plays, but get the ball near him and he'll catch it. Elsewhere on defense, defensive end Marques Douglas is in his walk-year and is definitely playing for a new contract. For a big man, he's shown excellent speed and has been a big playmaker. Finally, he may be approaching retirement, but Bryant Young is continuing a late-career resurgence and might have a shot at a second straight Pro Bowl in his 14th season.
BBV: Plaxico Burress has been virtually unstoppable at wide receiver for the Giants. Who is likely to draw the Burress assignment, and how good of a matchup do you think it will be?
NN: Nate Clements should draw the assignment of covering Plaxico Burress and I am more excited about that matchup than almost anything else this Sunday. There were some snickers when the 49ers gave Clements the big contract, but he has definitely earned the contract as he has been shutting down the opposing #1 WR week after week. I'm not sure if you're a Football Outsiders reader, but they track the success of defenses versus certain types of receivers (#1 WR, #2 WR, other WR, TE, and RB). Against opposing #1 wide receivers, the 49ers rank #1 ( http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef.php scroll halfway down the page). Plaxico will probably make some plays, but I don't expect a ton of yards and the only way he scores is if he ends up one-on-one with another corner or it's a 1-yard pass thrown up for grabs by Eli. Nate Clements has been that good.