Reading the keys: 49ers/Giants
Pressure Eli Manning and keep him out of rhythm
YES: On a day when Manning was on his ‘A' game, the 49ers did just enough to harass him, forcing two key interceptions, the second of which led to the eventual winning touchdown. Manning had to fit several passes into windows, and he did so on each of his touchdown passes. Manning was sacked once for a nine-yard loss by blitzing linebacker Patrick Willis, and the Niners hit him on three other occasions. On a day when Manning was spot-on with most of his passes, the Niners forced him to get rid of the football before he was ready on several occasions – including on fourth down from the San Francisco 10-yard line with 37 seconds to play – and that was enough to make a deciding difference in the game.
Gouge New York's soft run defense with Frank Gore
NO: It wasn't working from the start with Gore, who had zero yards on six carries in the first half and then left the field after the first play of the second half, never to return because of ankle and knee injuries. San Francisco's offensive plan from the start was to come out passing to cross up the New York defense, and Gore never was a factor. Gore's backup, Kendall Hunter, made an impact in San Francisco's fourth-quarter rally with a 17-yard touchdown burst and led the 49ers with 40 yards rushing on six carries.
Joe Staley/Anthony Davis vs. Osi Umenyiora/Justin Tuck
YES: New York came into the game with 30 sacks in eight games, but Staley and Davis – San Francisco's bookend starting tackles – both excelled in these matchups throughout the day against New York's hard-charging starting defensive ends. Tuck was virtually blanked on the right side by Davis, finishing with no tackles and just one quarterback hurry. Umenyiora, who entered the game with seven sacks on the year, had one of New York's two sacks and one pressure. But they did nothing to make a difference in the game or rattle Niners quarterback Alex Smith, who constantly was able to evade pressure and slip out of the pocket because San Francisco's offensive tackles would not allow the pocket to collapse.
Stuff New York's ground game and make Giants one-dimensional
YES: The Giants sent Brandon Jacobs into the line six times in the first quarter as they tried to establish a running game and keep their offense balanced. They stuck with Jacobs throughout the afternoon – he finished with 18 carries – but ultimately that approach did little to help the New York offense, which still had to rely on the pass to put itself in position to score points. Jacobs finished with 55 yards rushing – averaging just 3.1 yards per carry – and change-of-pace back D.J. Ware added 34 yards on nine carries. But ultimately, the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense came through, limiting the Giants to 3.2 yards on their 29 attempts, and forcing New York to beat the 49ers through the air, which the Giants couldn't do.
Mix it up with passing game to keep New York defense honest
YES: The Niners more than mixed it up – they came out passing and stuck with that game plan throughout the day. San Francisco ran two running plays and threw nine passes in the first quarter, and while the offense became more balanced once the Niners took the lead, quarterback Alex Smith and Co. continued to test the Giants through the air as passing became the focal element of San Francisco's offense. Smith completed 19 of 30 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown and hurt the Giants and their strong secondary through the air throughout the day. Of San Francisco's 52 offensive plays, 32 of them began as passes.
Win the battle of special teams and field position
YES: The 49ers held the upper hand on special teams throughout the day, and in the end – once again – it was a considerable factor in the outcome. San Francisco perfectly executed an onside kick late in the first half, and it led to a field goal that gave the 49ers their first lead. Kicker David Akers again came up huge for the 49ers, putting six of his kickoffs in the end zone – four for touchbacks – and also drilling all four of his field-goal attempts, including one from 52 yards that evened the score late in the second quarter. Andy Lee contributed a 54.7-yard average – including an outstanding 50.7 net – on his four punts, and San Francisco's average starting position on its 11 drives was its own 35-yard line. New York's average starting spot on its 10 drives was its own 19-yard line.
Physical to the finish
YES: This was a tough, hard-fought game between two good teams who have established themselves this season as NFC powers, and it went down to the very end as the Giants came within 10 yards of the tying touchdown in the final seconds. But it was the Niners who were strongest to the finish, entering the fourth quarter trailing by one point but then turning on the gas and ripping out to a 14-point lead fewer than three minutes later. The 49ers had to hang on from there, but they came through when it counted, turning back New York in the final minutes after the Giants had driven to a first down at the San Francisco 18. New York couldn't get another first down or crack the end zone from there as it was the Niners who came up strong when it counted at the end.
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