The San Francisco 49ers, this week's opponent for the New York Giants, are an interesting team. Let's learn more about them in our weekly 'Five Questions' segment. This week, Niners Nation big cheese David Fucillo is answering our questions.
Ed: Bigger deal, gaining Aldon Smith or losing Patrick Willis? Why?
David: For purposes of this game, it is gaining Aldon Smith. Willis had already missed three straight games, and it seemed unlikely he would play this week even without the surgery news. The 49ers pass rush has been inconsistent at best, but the return of Aldon Smith adds all but a sure thing to that group. The 49ers have downgraded with Willis and NaVorro Bowman, but Chris Borland has excelled in place of Willis the last two weeks.
In terms of the playoff picture, that's a tougher question. Borland is playing out of his mind, but it remains to be seen if he will continue that pace through the rest of the season, and potentially into January. An all-world pass rush threat is always a great weapon to add, so adding Aldon Smith back to the pass rush is huge no matter what. It stings to lose Willis, but if Borland continues to play well, it's not the end of the world.
Ed: I'm sure you saw what the Seahawks did to the Giants with the read option. How much are the 49ers still using Kaepernick to keep the ball in that scheme?
David: The 49ers rarely use the read option these days. They do on occasion, but they often seem to use QB keeper runs a bit more. And even then, it does not seem like we see nearly as many designed runs. That being said, they still will whip them out on occasion to keep defenses honest. This year though, the addition of Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd has resulted in more frequent use of 3-, 4-, and 5-WR sets. We've seen more empty backfield formations this year than in the previous three years combined. The team still runs quite a bit, but we see a lot more attempts to spread things out a bit. And it has varied by game. One game Frank Gore will get 20+ carries, the next two games, he'll combine for less than 20. It's a bit unpredictable.
Ed: You can take one player off the Giants' roster and put him in your starting lineup. Who would it be, and why?
David: A guy like Will Beatty would be intriguing to add to the 49ers offensive line. The 49ers line has struggled with consistency this season. They are an incredibly talented group, but in pass protection in particular, they have been pretty awful for extended stretches. I think Joe Staley is plenty talented, but he has just been having an off year for some reason. For one game, I might consider bringing in Beatty just to mix things up.
On the defensive side of the ball, I'm honestly not sure who I would take. If Prince Amukamara were healthy I might grab him, but otherwise, I'm pretty happy with the 49ers defense. Guys like Robert Ayers and Jaosn Pierre-Paul are intriguing, but when the 49ers go with the a 4-man defensive front, I think they have plenty of depth right now. I'm open to suggestions on who Giants fans think might be an upgrade for the 49ers defense.
Ed: You are game-planning for the Giants. How do you attack the 49ers, offensively and defensively?
David: Offense: If you bring the pressure hard and fast, you can disrupt the 49ers passing attack, so long as you keep Colin Kaepernick from escaping the pocket and improvising. 49ers fans are still trying to figure out Kap's ceiling, and part of the reason that is difficult is because a a lot of his big plays can come during a breakdown by the defense. They are not plays that can be game-planned, either for an opposing defense, or for 49ers OC Greg Roman. Things will break down, and you just pray for the best, much like what we saw on the big throw to Crabtree on 4th down in the 4th quarter.
That being said, the Giants defense can find success if they take advantage of mistakes. By that, I mean that while Colin Kaepernick has improved in his progressions, he still has some first read designed plays, and will try and force it into a small space, or he will miss the nearby defender entirely. Forcing turnovers is the key.
Defense: The 49ers pass rush has struggled, and normally I would say Eli Manning just needs to have patience because he will have time in the pocket to wait for his receivers to get open. However, the 49ers welcome back Aldon Smith this week, so the pass rush should be improved. Smith will probably play primarily in the nickel on Sunday, so when he is off the field, the Giants need to take advantage of any lapse in the pass rush. Additionally, one option is going at Chris Culliver and Jimmie Ward deeper down the field. The 49ers secondary has played solid this season, but Culliver in particular can sometimes struggle spotting the ball down the field. He can get turned around, and that is something Eli and his receivers will want to attack.
Ed: You are, I'm sure, 100 percent confident the 49ers will whip the Giants on Sunday. Why will the 49ers win?
David: Considering the 49ers dropped a home game to the Rams in ugly fashion, the only thing in which I am 100 percent confident is that I am not confident in anything. The 49ers are the better team, but they have shown enough inconsistency that nothing would surprise me in this game. If the 49ers win, it will be because they get solid pressure on Eli, and their own offensive line holds up well enough. They can win through the air, but their best chance to win comes when they establish a solid, moderately consistent run game. If they do that, they win.
Thanks to David for taking the time to answer my questions. Be sure to stop by Niners Nation this week to learn more about the 49ers.