Perhaps it is coincidence, perhaps it's an attempt at a cruel joke on behalf of the schedule makers, but the six of the first seven teams that the New York Giants face in 2015 are teams that heavily base their offense on running the ball. Of the teams the Giants have would face through the first two months of the season, only the Atlanta Falcons are built to throw the ball rather than run it. The Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, and Philadelphia Eagles are all -- supposedly -- built to run the ball first (maybe second and third, and when all else fails, try to throw a pass or two).
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the field...
The New York Football Giants, the team that was 30th in the league in rush defense, giving up 135.1 yards per game suddenly became the best team in the league in rush defense, giving up just 68.9 yards per game, just 1.15 yards per game shy of cutting their 2014 total in half.
The Giants will need to keep that up against the Niners, who are fifth in the league, averaging 130.2 yards per game on the ground.
Stats At A Glance
|Points Per Game||Total Yards||Passing Yards||Rushing Yards|
|49ers' Offense||12.0 (32nd)||289 (31st)||158.8 (32nd)||130.2 (5th)|
|Giants' Defense||20.5 (11th)||386.0 (26th)||316.2(32nd||69.8 (1st)|
As good as the Giants have been in defending the run, they have been as bad at rushing the passer. Though they did manage to get some pressure on Tyrod Taylor, and even a pair of sacks, the Giants' pass rush has been largely ineffective through the first four games.
While defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is always willing to send extra rushers to help pressure the passer, if the Giants can't find success with their front four, blitzes are a risky proposition at best. The Giants also find themselves having to do some personnel reshuffling as well. While the Giants are getting Markus Kuhn back healthy -- though fans might disagree with the coaches on the value of that -- Robert Ayers continues to miss practice while George Selvie is added to the injury report. Kerry Wynn has begun to receive national attention with his performances the past two weeks. With Ayers and Selvie injured, the Giants might just need another performance like that from Wynn.
The Giants defensive line goes up against a San Francisco offensive line that has struggled mightily since a terrific performance on opening weekend. Left tackle Joe Staley has been solid, but he is the only one. From center to right tackle, the Niners' line has given up a combined 27 hurries, hits, and sacks. All told, Colin Kaepernick has been sacked 14 times through the first four games. That pressure has been a big part of why the Niners have the last ranked passing offense in the league.
The Giants will miss having a dynamic defensive end, like JPP or Robert Ayers, who can win one-on-one battles with left tackles like Joe Staley, but if they are going to jump start their pass rush, this could be the week to do it.
In further injury news sure to make Giants' fans everywhere cringe, Devon Kennard is listed as "day-to-day" with an injured hamstring. Kennard is quickly becoming one of the Giants' best defenders, and one of the best linebackers in the NFL that nobody is talking about. After their experience with Odell Beckham's hamstring and Victor Cruz's calf, the Giants will likely be cautious with their burgeoning star linebacker.
The Giants' coverage over the middle will have its work cut out for it, however. What passing attack the 49ers have been able to mount has come through Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and Carlos Hyde, all receiving options that largely work shallow and over the middle. That area happens to be the weak link the Giants' defense, and where quarterbacks have attacked the most thus far in 2015. The Giants will likely use a combination to Thomas Casillas, Mark Herzlich, and a third safety -- depending on situation -- to fill the hole left by Kennard.
Steve Spagnuolo may also use Damontre Moore, who has similar measurables to Kennard, as an outside linebacker in certain situations as well.
The secondary hasn't escaped the rash of dings either. Both Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley didn't practice Wednesday, leaving the Giants thin at corner. Fortunately for the Giants, Kaepernick hasn't really attacked downfield much, averaging only 6.3 yards per attempt. If Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can lock down Torrey Smith, that should allow the Giants to cheat a safety up into the box to help contain the 49ers' rushing attack or send an extra rusher after Kaepernick.
The biggest matchup of Monday night's game isn't any individual battle, or even between opposing position group. It will be dealing with Colin Kaepernick as a rushing threat. Under Perry Fewell, the Giants were often gashed by mobile quarterbacks and the read-option offense. This season, Kaepernick's is the 49ers' rusher with 195 yards on 44 carries (5.9 yards per carry) has made him their most effective rusher.
In previous years the Giants acknowledged the existence of the read-option, and even had schemes to stop it. However, it seemed as though that's where it stopped. It seemed as though the schemes were never really taught or practiced.
This year, however, the Giants have reportedly been placing an emphasis on defending the read-option since OTAs. Steve Spagnuolo went back to college to learn from some of the best defenses in the country how to defend the spread-option, and it showed against Buffalo.
The Giants will need to continue to play the same kind of physical, disciplined, team defense as they have through the first four games if they want to contain Kaepernick.
And ultimately, that is their game-plan, and its the same as the last four weeks. Shut down the opposing team's running game and force Colin Kaepernick to beat them with his right arm. It just so happens that shutting down their running game involves shutting down Kaepernick himself.