Game breakdown: 49ers/Giants

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's game between the 49ers and New York Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, NFL rankings for both teams, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the showdown between NFC division leaders as the Niners look for their first 8-1 start since 1997.


KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 p.m. PST
SITE: Candlestick Park in San Francisco
SURFACE: Natural grass
RECORDS: 49ers 7-1, 1-0 in NFC West, 5-1 in NFC, 2-1 vs. NFC East; Giants 6-2, 1-1 in NFC East, 3-2 in NFC, 2-1 vs. NFC West
LAST WEEK: 49ers defeated Washington Redskins 19-11; Giants defeated New England Patriots 24-20
NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: No. 26 in total offense, No. 9 in total defense. Giants: No. 11 in total offense, No. 19 in total defense
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver)

SERIES HISTORY: 28th regular-season meeting. Giants lead series, 14-13. The 49ers have won four of the six playoff meetings between the two teams, including the last one, a wild 39-38 wild-card playoff win on Jan. 5, 2003. A botched field goal by the Giants led to the 49ers' improbable win, in which San Francisco rallied from a 38-14 third-quarter deficit by scoring the final 25 points of the game. The Giants also prevented a 49ers three-peat following the 1990 season, when Roger Craig fumbled at the end of the NFC title game, allowing the Giants to kick the winning field goal. The Giants have won past three regular-season contests by a combined score of 86-38, including two games in New York and one at San Francisco.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Giants will be without RB Ahmad Bradshaw, who will miss his second consecutive game with a foot injury. Brandon Jacobs did provide a physical presence last week, but the 49ers enter with the league's No. 1-ranked run defense. QB Eli Manning will likely have to work the ball downfield without the benefit of an effective play-action game. TE Jake Ballard continues to be a huge surprise in the passing attack to help complement the ground game and WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) could return to give Manning his most reliable target. The 49ers want no part of QB Alex Smith forcing the ball downfield against the Giants' league-best pass rush (28 sacks). They'll attack the front seven with RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter pounding the ball against a defense allowing 4.6 yards per carry. Smith is utilizing TE Vernon Davis heavily for high percentage passes, which could keep Giants S Antrel Rolle off the line of scrimmage with more focus on shadowing Davis downfield.

FAST FACTS: Manning has an NFL-best 121.7 fourth-quarter passer rating. ... The 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-high 30 straight games.

BY THE NUMBERS: 149 – Frank Gore needs 149 yards to surpass Joe "The Jet" Perry and become the 49ers' all-time rushing leader. 0 – Number of times Giants quarterback Eli Manning has lost to San Francisco in the regular season since becoming a starter.

QUOTES TO NOTE
"We hear a lot of stuff on ESPN, 'Oh the Giants are going to come in here and beat the Niners.' That's what we like to hear. It makes us play harder." – 49ers tight end Delanie Walker
"He can make his own space (and) BYOB – bring his own blocker – namely himself." – Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty on 49ers RB Frank Gore

49ERS GAME PLAN: Both teams don't blitz much because they can bring pressure with their four defensive linemen. Both have said they also want to control the clock. On defense, both play fairly basic schemes. However, the Giants like to show a variety of different looks in the secondary. The Giants have to come up with an answer for the 49ers' many personnel groups and formations on offense. The 49ers need to watch out for Eli Manning's hard count. He's one of the best in the league at drawing the defense offside.

GIANTS GAME PLAN: The 49ers defense poses several challenges to the Giants offense for which New York will need to find an answer. On offense, the Giants must discover a way to have a balanced attack. That's no easy feat against a 49ers defense that has held opponents to 3.3 yards per carry on the ground and 11.1 yards per reception. One way the Giants can soften up the 49ers' defense is to use Brandon Jacobs to pound the ball up the middle and then send rookie speedster Da'Rel Scott to take on the role usually executed by Ahmad Bradshaw, who will miss his second straight game with a foot injury. If the Giants can find success in running the ball, that should open things up for the passing game, which could be getting its top wide out, Hakeem Nicks, back this week. A final key for the Giants on offense will be ball security. The 49ers are +12 in giveaways/takeaways, with ten interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. Last week the Giants weren't perfect with their ball security, and that's something that must be cleaned up for this week.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- 49ers OLB Ahmad Brooks, who has four sacks in his last three games, vs. Giants OT Kareem McKenzie.
--- 49ers NT Isaac Sopoaga, who is having a terrific year, vs. Giants C David Baas, who is returning from a knee injury.
--- 49ers ILB Patrick Willis, who has been asked to play more man coverage, vs. Giants TE Jake Ballard, who's an up and coming player.
--- Giants run defense, which has allowed opponents an average of 127.1 gross rushing yards per game, vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore, who has rushed for 100-plus yards in his last five games: Gore is a very physical runner who does a great job of getting low and squaring his shoulders. He gives opposing defenses fits simply with his power and his north-south style that will likely require the Giants to stay in their base defense a fair amount of the time, with S Antrel Rolle being called upon to surf near the line of scrimmage to provide run support.
--- Giants Special Teams vs. 49ers Special Teams: Last week against the Patriots', the Giants showed how important it was to win the field position battle, as the duo of P Steve Weatherford and K Lawrence Tynes, along with their respective coverage units, pinned the Patriots deep in their own territory on nearly every drive. This week, the Giants special teams will face perhaps its toughest competitor to date. P Andy Lee is the NFC's leading punter with a 50.2 gross average, while K David Akers has 24 touchbacks on 48 kickoffs (51.1 percent), and has reached the end zone 39 times. Akers' kicking, combined with the coverage, has resulted in a 21.3 average starting field position for opponents.
--- Giants Red Zone Offense, ranked sixth in the NFL vs. the 49ers Red Zone Defense, ranked first in the NFL: Of their 27 red-zone possessions, 17 have gone for touchdowns. Meanwhile the 49ers have been stubborn inside the 20, allowing opponents just 79 points on 20 possessions, including seven touchdowns. Giants' offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who has at times had a tendency to call for slow-developing plays as the Giants get closer to the end zone, will need to keep things simple if the Giants are to have success inside of the 20.

Inside the camps


GIANTS

Cornerback Prince Amukamara, who has yet to take the field due to a broken bone in his foot suffered in just his second training camp practice back in August, could see his first action this weekend when the Giants face the 49ers.

Amukamara, who has been increasing his reps every week since returning to the practice field following the Giants bye, said he's optimistic about how things have been going. This week, he said he's not only been working on the scout team, he's also been taking a few snaps with the defense.

"I would say it's closer," he said of his anticipated debut. "I've made more progress from last week, and I'm going with the team this week, so I guess we'll see how things go."

Amukamara, who has been mostly doing his work with the scout team, noted that he's been able to go against the Giants' first-string offense, which has gone a long way toward preparing him for his eventual debut.

"Everything went good. Obviously, so the speed isn't that much different on the scout team against the ones. All it is, really is getting used to the calls, lining up, and executing the play."

As a result of his increased reps, Amukamara said things are starting to slow down for him, though he admitted that he's still a long way from where he'd like to be from both a mental and a physical aspect.

"I'm still learning and there's still a lot for me to learn," he said. "I think the biggest part is just to show the coaches that I'm ready and gain their trust just by me doing the right thing on the field, and not making mental errors."

There's also another big challenge the rookie needs to demonstrate to the coaches that he's overcome, at least according to veteran defensive back Deon Grant, who last week had opined that Amukamara was not ready to return to action.

"He had a broken foot, so his challenge is really going to be comfort thing," Grant said. "He's not just coming to play safety or defensive line, or linebacker. He's going to play on the island, so he's going to have to do more shifting and moving than he would at any other position.

"When you have a situation like that, you have to make sure that thing is darn near 100 percent before you even touch that football field," he added.

Should Amukamara be given a uniform on Sunday, there's one area that he said he felt he'd be ready to contribute to help his team.

"I know I can help on special teams, whether I give guys like Corey (Webster), (Aaron) Ross, and Antrel Rolle a break," he said. "I know I can do that."

49ERS

Only in San Francisco would there be pressure to open up the offense even though the 49ers have discovered a successful formula running the ball. ESPN analyst and former 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young fueled the passing argument during his regular segment on local KNBR Radio.

"Now, offensively, is where if we're actually going to threaten - and we might as well, we're 7-1, let's go deep! Let's do it!," Young railed. "I talked about this a couple weeks ago, at some point as we have some games to, not waste, but some games to toy a little bit, not toy, what's the word, we have games that we have to really push the envelope, let's do it offensively, let's throw the ball 40 times just once, just to see how it goes. Let's go no-huddle. Let's go win it with the passing game."

Other talk-show hosts have also hopped on Young's idea. But is that the best strategy against a tough opponent?

The 49ers are 7-1 and they've basically won their division. But now the team is trying to position themselves for their playoff run. The team is currently the No. 2 playoff seed and they are hosting the 6-2 Giants, who are the three seed. A win by the 49ers could greatly help them down the line because they would hold the tie-breaker over them.

The 49ers have five games left after the Giants against inferior opponents in the NFC West. Maybe that's the time to "push the envelope" with the passing game. However, against the Giants, the 49ers would be best served keeping to the offensive and defensive formulas that won them seven games, which includes smothering run defense, prolific running and judicious passing.

The 49ers are 30th in passing yards, but quarterback Alex Smith ranks first with the league's lowest interception percentage. Why should the team deter from what they do best in their biggest game of the year?

Personnel news


GIANTS

--- WR-KR Devin Thomas has lost his job as the team's kickoff returner. Thomas, who has returned 21 kickoffs for 498 yards (23.7-yard average) has also had some issues lately with ball security which are likely the result of his demotion, as well as his decision making.

--- RBs Da'Rel Scott, a rookie, and DJ Ware, the latter of who had won the kickoff returner job last season until he was injured on the opening kickoff in the Giants' season-opener last year, are candidates to fill the role at San Francisco. Scott will likely get the initial chance at making a difference. Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn praised Scott for his speed, saying, "He's fast, so we'd like to put the ball in his hands at some point." Thomas, meanwhile, who has rarely participated on offense this season, could find himself inactive for Sunday's game against the 49ers, though head coach Tom Coughlin said that the receiver remains in the mix for as far as the kickoff returner job goes.

--- RT Kareem McKenzie, a Penn State alumnus, has followed the scandal that has unfolded at his alma mater this week and resulted in the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno. "It's sad for the kids overall," he said when asked if the situation in which former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is facing charges for allegedly having inappropriate physical contact with underage boys. "This is not a situation where it was a mistake or anything of that nature. We're talking about young children who were allegedly taken advantage of. Anytime you involve kids who are innocent or anything of that nature, it's a sad situation. Plain and simple, my heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to all those involved in the situation."

--- WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) returned to practice to do individual drills on Thursday, and was upgraded to limited on the Giants practice report. Nicks said told The SportsXchange on Thursday that that he was confident of being ready to play on Sunday against the 49ers if he was able to get through the week without any setbacks resulting from increased reps.

--- FB Henry Hynoski continues to work his way back from a stinger injury suffered on Oct. 9. While it doesn't appear likely that the rookie will return to action this week - he's still working to get himself back into football shape after such a long layoff, the belief is that he will be back in action when the Giants return home next weekend to host the Eagles in a Sunday night matchup.

49ERS

--- RB Frank Gore was limited in practice this week but said his left ankle is fine and that he should be ready to play against the Giants.

--- DE Ray McDonald's hamstring injury is still limiting him. He has done individual drills but did not engage in a full practice this week. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he would not play McDonald unless he practices, but McDonald appears likely to return for this game.

--- DE Ricky Jean Francois graded out well replacing Ray McDonald against the Redskins according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Jean Francois also replaced injured NT Isaac Sopoaga to start the season.

--- WR Joshua Morgan was in the 49ers locker room on Thursday on crutches. Morgan is on injured reserve after breaking his right lower leg against the Bucs in Week 5. He said screws were inserted to stabilize the leg.

--- QB Alex Smith would have more passing yards, but his receivers have dropped 15 passes, which is the sixth highest number in the league.


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