Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Jan 2012

ESPN: Niners Facing a "New" Giants

What happened last time the 49ers and Giants played each other, and how have the Giants changed during their recent winning streak?

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 17 Jan 2012

26 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2013, 11:39pm by Aisin


by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/17/2012 - 10:06pm

Uggh. Must get Insider subscription. Easy not to do when you have a crappy team and nobody writes about you.

by t.d. :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 1:38am

agree. biggest changes on the giants i've seen this year are that now nicks is healthy and they have two elite wr, and tuck and osi are also healthier, fortifying the line. not sure these were the case in the first matchup

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 10:50am

Everyone talking about changes for the Giants, how dominant their defense is, etc. No one talking about:

1) changes for the 49ers. particularly, the absence of Gore in their regular season matchup, and the improved efficiency of the 49ers offense in the Red Zone.

2) the Giants defense is uniquely well suited to play the Packers and Patriots-- poorly balanced defenses that spread it out and look for matchups they can win, helmed by accurate QBs who can quickly identify the defenses thrown at them. They've got decent cover guys and a great pass rush (arguably, it was in response to this type of defensive scheme that Belichick drafted Gronk and Hernandez in 2010). But the Giants are not dominant against more physical, balanced offenses.

This will be a hard fought game, but everyone's assuming that the Giants will learn from their first game and correct their mistakes, and thus overlooking the possibility that the 49ers will be the ones to correct their mistakes. I like the 49ers' matchups here. I think the 49ers D can stuff Jacobs and Bradshaw, while also preventing the big play that killed them in their last game, I think the 49ers will move the ball against this Giants defense with a mix of run-run-pass that will tire out the Giants' much vaunted D-line, and I think that Eli will throw at least one pick in this game.

49ers for the win, possibly in a laugher.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 1:29pm

The 49ers are better than the Giants, overall, on the line of scrimmage, whereas the Giants are better than the Packers on the line of scrimmage. The 49ers have the better secondary by a good margin, although the Giants are rapidly improving in that area. The Giants, I think, have a slight edge in non-qb ball handlers.

The wild card is the qb differential, because it really is hard to assess Alex Smith, whereas it is known that Manning is terrific. The only outcome which would surprise me is if the Giants won easily; it would not surprise me to see the 49ers pass rush just whipping the Giants offensive line, resulting in a one-sided Niners victory.

by rich316 :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 2:12pm

Hmm, I agree that if the Niners win it will be probably one sided, due to domination at the LOS and forcing turnovers. However, I think a Giants win could also be one-sided if the Giants are able to put up a few touchdowns in the first half and not turn the ball over - in that scenario the pass rush probably gets going in the second half, like it usually does with a lead, and Eli doesn't take the risks that he takes when the giants need to come back.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 2:46pm

The Niners have only had one one-sided victory this season, over Tampa Bay. It would be a strange time for dominance to break out, in the NFC Conference Championship.

On the other hand, they've only last once by more than one score (to the Ravens, on a short week, flying across country, and that by 10 points).

After ten years of rooting for a bad team, I still somehow don't have much faith that they're that good, but I am gaining faith that, whatever happens, they'll manage to keep the game close.

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 5:49pm

Obviously, I trust your opinion regarding the 49ers quite a bit.

Your post got me thinking, in particular about the 2000 Giants.

If we don't count 26-0 (Rams, week 13) and 20-3 (Steelers, week 15) by the 2011 49ers as one-sided, then the 2000 Giants really only had one such game themselves: a 31-7 win at the Cardinals in week 13. They had 24-7 (Eagles, week 9), 24-3 (@Browns, week 10), and 30-10 (Steelers, week 15) wins, which are similar in score to other strong 49er wins.

And that Giants team hosted the Vikings in the NFC Championship. And won, 41-0.

Not saying you're wrong, as I don't expect a blowout either way, myself. But just something I thought of.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 5:53pm

That Vikings team may have been the worst defensive team to ever appear in a conference championship game. The only reason they made the playoffs was because of Randy Moss, and a decent to good offensive line.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 6:42pm

Oops, yes, I didn't see the 26-0 victory over the Rams, so I didn't think of it in my post. (I'm very sleepy...have an 11-day old in the house. She was polite enough to be born on the bye week.) That 20-3 victory over the Steelers felt a lot closer than the score, but that could be just the natural anxiety I've built up over many years of suckitude.

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 6:45pm


by greybeard :: Thu, 01/19/2012 - 1:46am


by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 01/20/2012 - 2:17am


by t.d. :: Fri, 01/20/2012 - 3:49am


by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 3:17pm

Yeah, if the Giants only scored 20 in the first half at Lambeau, 7 coming on a Hail Mary as time expired, I'd be surprised if they scored 14 in Candlestick, and I don't think the Giants throw a first half shutout.

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 4:25pm

I think the Niners offense has been quietly coming on in the last part of the season. I also think that they've played pretty conservatively with leads, which is partially the coaches sticking with their strengths (great defense, great special teams), and partially the fact that the players were still getting comfortable with the offense after the installation of a new scheme and a lockout-shortened training camp (e.g., Vernon Davis apparently only started feeling comfortable with the playbook in the last 5 weeks or so).

As the season has grown older, they've begun to trust their offense, particularly Alex Smith, more. That being said, the 49ers definitely lack WR threats. Getting Delanie Walker back will help, as he's a great complement to Vernon Davis, and a pretty effective dual threat (blocking/receiving TE) in his own right.

Eli and Alex are both very good in different ways. If I need to move the ball down the field quickly, I take Eli no question (although Alex has shown us a little something late in games all season in this regard). But if I want a mistake free, no turnover game, I take Alex no question. I have no doubt the Giants will put up more yards in this game, but I suspect they will lose the time of possession and turnover battles pretty badly.

I also wonder if, after last week's Saints debacle on defense, the Giants will go to a zone heavy scheme. The knock on Alex has always been his accuracy, but his decisionmaking is very sound. I think he would thrive against a zone-heavy approach, particularly off of play action and jumbo packages (which I suspect will be the order of the day, as the Niners will run at least 20+ times).

by t.d. :: Thu, 01/19/2012 - 3:36am

They have a much better offense than their reputation. Tanier wrote a Walkthrough about all their 9-0 leads. Well, that's three scoring drives to the oppositions' none, and Harbaugh was very conservative. I've been more impressed by Smith than Gore, who looks like a run-of-the-mill running back to me. The only thing I'm not sure of about the 49ers is whether their offensive line can be overwhelmed, ala the Ravens game, though that was under special circumstances

by rich316 :: Thu, 01/19/2012 - 5:31am

Yeah, Akers broke the field-goal record for a reason. They get down there consistently, but its the red-zone offense specifically that has problems. When the field shrinks, no matter how good your play-calling is you still need big-time playmakers, and the niners have a shortage of those on offense.

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2012 - 10:08am

Their offensive line looks above average in run blocking, very below average in pass protection. That's why having Gore back is a big plus here as much as anything (and I agree he's not what he used to be, but I wouldn't call him run of the mill): the 49ers have a legitimate rushing threat, and so defenses can't simply tee off on the pass rush.

That will be critical against a Giants defense that has a phenomenal pass rushing d-line, which is not nearly as good against the run (and generally has pretty subpar personnel behind their front 4).

by Mike_in_Jersey (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 5:29pm

Suprisingly enough, my impression is that the 49ers beat the Giants throwing the ball last time, taking advantage of a secondary that was playing absolutely terrible. The 49ers went with their passing game probably because Gore was out, but of course doing the opposite of what your opponent expects is some times a good strategy.

I think the Giants win this one because they shut down the 49er offense entirely. Remember, just a few short weeks ago the Giants totally dominated a very good running team (the Falcons). Their secondary has played lights out in recent weeks, by whatever voodoo you want to subscribe it to. The 49er defense is great, but the Giants put up 20 points on them without Ahmad Bradshaw. I don't think the 49ers score that many this week.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 6:56pm

The only running back I can recall that gave the 49ers a tough time was Marshawn Lynch, a big man who's hard to tackle. Bradshaw might have as much success.

Shutting down the 49er offense entirely? No one's managed to do that yet, and the Giants defense doesn't look like the toughest they've faced this year. The 9er offense may not be any great shakes, but at least they've won with different facets of it from week to week -- sometimes rushing, sometimes a big game from the WRs, sometimes from the TEs. That and good coaching and it's hard to imagine being shut down "entirely."

I'm most worried about the Giants propensity for big plays and the 49er propensity to surrender them.

by tuluse :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 7:14pm

What about the Ravens?

by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 01/19/2012 - 1:28pm

Well, there was that infamous (infamous around here, anyway) phantom chop-block call on Anthony Davis that took a Tedd Ginn touchdown off the board. The Ravens are also not a defense you want to play with three days of prep time.

For sure there have been long stretches where the 49er offense was unable to do anything...the 2nd and 3rd quarter of the last game come to mind. The second half of the second game against Arizona also...many more.

It just seems odd to predict that a defense clocking in at 4.6% weighted DVOA will entirely shut down an offense that no one else has managed to (possible exception of the Ravens).

by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 10:26pm

Yes, if the Giants win it will because they shut out the 49ers. Maybe not literally, but I can't see these 49ers scoring much at all.

by greybeard :: Fri, 01/20/2012 - 1:07am

With an extra game, Giants scored 14 points more than 49ers. 394 against 380.
Last games Giants 37 pts, 49ers 36 pts
Last 2 games Giants 61 pts, 49ers 70 pts
Last 3 games Giants 92 pts, 49ers 89 pts
Last 4 games Giants 121 pts, 49ers 109 pts
Last 5 games Giants 131 pts, 49ers 128 its

by M :: Wed, 01/18/2012 - 6:58pm

How funny - this seems to be a less animated continuation of the "What the hell changed with the Giants?". Instead of having my ass torn asunder because I state that the Giants are not a good team (for the entirety of the regular season), I'll just say that I would not be surprised with any outcome, because both teams are currently playing at a high level.

by Aisin (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 11:39pm

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