The hottest team in the playoffs remained red hot this past week, knocking off the 15-1 Packers on their home turf. New York was able to take advantage of a mediocre Green Bay defense, but the team knows this week’s matchup will be much more challenging. Three things they’ll have to do…
1. Get to Alex Smith
The Giants D is finally healthy and wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. Aaron Rodgers was held to just 264 yards last week (low for his standards) as New York took away Green Bay’s big-play ability, something that defined the defending champs all season. The Giants forced four turnovers (three fumbles and an interception) and sacked Rodgers four times in the game. They made life difficult for one of this year’s top MVP candidates and they’ll have to do the same this week with Smith, who is coming off a career game (299 yards and four total touchdowns).
New York can force turnovers (tied for sixth with 20 interceptions) and get to the quarterback (third in sacks with 48). While Smith had a fantastic performance last week against the Saints, he’s no Rodgers. The Giants will use their front seven to make sure Smith never gets into a rhythm on Sunday.
2. Win the line of scrimmage battle
While the Giants boast a strong D-line, the Niners aren’t lacking in that department either. It is imperative for New York to give Eli Manning as much time as possible to be Eli Manning, the quarterback who threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns last week. Manning has elevated his game to a new level this season (15 fourth-quarter TDs, for example) and he can do damage against this Niners D that gave up almost 231 passing yards per game.
San Francisco is a great run-stopping team (best in the NFL with only 77.2 rush yards per game) but New York is used to playing without a strong ground game this season, with their league-worst 89.2 yards per game. That means Sunday’s line of scrimmage battle will be less about getting the running game going, and more about protecting Manning from that ferocious pass rush after the Niners finished with 42 sacks this season. The Giants have a ton of weapons on offense (Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, etc.) and Manning just needs time to find his receivers. The more time he has in the pocket, the more effective New York’s offense will operate.
3. Avoid the turnovers
This applies to every remaining playoff team, but even more so for the Giants based on their opponent, as San Francisco finished tops in the league in takeaways (38) and just forced New Orleans into five turnovers this past weekend. The Giants have been one of the best teams this postseason in terms of hanging onto the football. In their last four games, New York has turned the ball over just twice (both Manning interceptions).
Turnovers did in the likes of the Texans, Saints, and Packers on Divisional Weekend (Drew Brees threw his first postseason interception in five years, and Rodgers lost his first fumble of the season), and the Giants want to avoid joining that group.