Giants not surprised with first place in East

When critics were tearing the New York Giants apart for the decisions they made prior to the start of the season, the confidence level inside of the team's headquarters never waned. So after eight games, the midway point in the season, New York's 6-2 record comes as no surprise to the Giants.

This is the fifth time in the Tom Coughlin era they've had six or more wins with eight games played.

"I think confidence is always there," said quarterback Eli Manning. "I think you have to have confidence in yourself and your team. It is still a matter of preparation and how hard you are going to work each week."

So high is the Giants' confidence, which has seen them defeat top teams such as the Bills and, more recently, the Patriots, that this weekend when they head west to face the 7-1 49ers, they're hardly intimidated.

Manning believes that beating the 49ers comes down to the basics.

"You have to play smart football," Manning said. "They are really talented on defense. Their front seven is really good, and you don't see a whole lot of teams running against them.

"They get good pressure on the quarterback just bringing four guys a lot of times," he added. "They don't turn the ball over on offense and they get turnovers on defense. Don't give them easy breaks, and make it tough on their offense. They don't give up many big plays so it is a matter of being consistent and getting in good third-down situations and trying to convert there."

One other thing that might behoove the Giants to try this weekend to establish is control of the game tempo earlier. For as good as New York has been in the fourth quarter this year – Manning has led his team to five fourth-quarter comebacks – the Giants have been less effective in quarters one through three.

"Each game you have to figure out what kind of game it is going to be and you play to those circumstances," Manning said. "Obviously, when you play the 49ers, you know there is a possibility that it will be a low-scoring, defensive game.

"Offensively, we have our mindset of what plays we want to run, what we like and what are our chances to hit plays. We need to run our offense efficiently and it is a matter of us going out there and doing that."

One thing the Giants will look to do on offense is try to run the ball against a 49ers defense that, through eight games, has yielded an average of 70.7 rushing yards per game to opponents.

"We just have to run the ball when there are looks that we think that we can run certain plays," said Manning, who noted the 49ers do a good job of mixing up their defenses.

"It is a matter of scheme and what is the way they think we can stop the run. Do they think they can stop it with their front seven and play two high, then we are going to have to run it, find ways and adjust in the passing game. If they are going to bring extra safeties, then we are just going to have to throw it."

Defensively, the Giants will have to find a way to stop the 49ers' rushing attack, led by running back Frank Gore.

"We all know what Frank can do with the ball in his hands. He is a very efficient, powerful, and smart runner," said safety Antrel Rolle. "His vision is excellent and he is an all-around back that you want in your backfield. We have to stay in our keys and be disciplined in what we do, play with attitude and physical attack mode."

"He just does things right," added safety Deon Grant of Gore. "He knows how to read the holes. He knows how to fall forward when it's time to tackle him."

For as good as Gore and the rest of the 49ers offense has been so far, Giants linebacker Michael Boley believes they can be controlled.

"You have to be great at what you do," he said when asked about how a defense needs to approach stopping the 49ers on offense. "Play technique-sound, especially for us on defense. That's what it's going to boil down to for us -- gap integrity, playing technique-sound and forcing them to make some mistakes."

Come Sunday, it will be taking care of business for the Giants, who quickly dismiss any thought of a letdown being a possibility.

"I don't think you are ever concerned with a letdown; that is something that doesn't enter our minds," said Manning. "You prepare for the team that you are playing. This is not a team that we play very often so we need to learn their personnel, their scheme, and the plays that we have to run, and just be prepared to go out there and play a tough game."

However, an alarming trend under Coughlin has been the Giants' inability to finish seasons on a strong note. Since 2004, Coughlin's first year as head coach of the team, the Giants have finished their last eight games of the season at .500 or worse five times.

So how then, do the Giants, who begin the second half of their schedule against teams that are a combined 36-21 make sure that the momentum they've established in the first half of the year doesn't sputter?

"You just try not to think about it," Boley said. "In the past, I guess we have shown that we can collapse, so for us, we just try to focus on each game at a time and not try to look too far ahead."

"We talk about this now being an eight-game schedule and the next game is the most important game of the year," added Coughlin. "It's the game against the San Francisco 49ers --that's how we approach it."

In San Francisco, the Giants, who will have to travel cross-country on the heels of their emotional road win over the Patriots, will be facing a team that's won six in a row and that sits atop of the NFC West. That's why New York has already put their win over the Patriots behind them and begun focusing on the 49ers.

"You always want to take the good and the bad from games," said tight end Jake Ballard on the key to avoiding a hangover from the win over the Patriots.

"I think we just need to look at the things we need to keep improving on and not the things we did well because that's what makes teams better.

Sitting down and being critical of yourself pushes you to get better in every aspect of the game."

When the Giants reconvene to begin their preparation for their game against the 49ers, Coughlin will have a message ready for them that he hopes will put his team in the right frame of mind and avoid any pitfalls that ultimately lead to a second-half collapse.

"The entire concept for us is keeping both feet on the ground, dealing with praise as well as criticism and understanding that if you're going to have any success in this business, then your preparation has to be exceptional," he said.

"You have to be prepared to pay the price, to sacrifice the other types of things in your life that could or could not be a distraction to the benefit of your team and your teammates and we'll continue to sell that."

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