I re-watched the first Giants-49ers game earlier this week to get ready for the NFC title game. Here’s what I learned:
1. The 49ers came out throwing aggressively from the first snap. They threw 11 of 13 times to open the game and it was effective.
Alex Smith got great protection and played an almost flawless game. I only charted one truly bad pass he made the entire game. The other incompletions were throwaways, drops, or tipped passes. His interception came on a bad drop by Ted Ginn.
It was the best game I saw Smith play all year. These weren’t just safe throws. Smith was very accurate and hit passes into small windows. He had time to go through his progressions and find his second or third read.
ESPN.com’s Mike Sando notes that the 49ers threw more on early downs against the Giants than any other game this year . . . until the win over the Saints in the playoffs.
2. The Giants only got pressure on Smith late in the game. They almost never got pressure just rushing four defenders. Justin Tuck was playing hurt, so it’s a different New York front now. They will have to get pressure on Smith faster.
Smith got hit and hurried almost as much as Eli Manning during this game, but it only happened when New York made Smith hold the ball a while.
3. The Giants focused on stopping Vernon Davis, usually with two defenders. They did a great job on him until a blown coverage late in the game. New York made Braylon Edwards (now released), Ted Ginn, Michael Crabtree, and Delanie Walker beat them.
4. New York played a lot of zone defense. After succeeding in man coverage last week against the Packers, perhaps the Giants will go to more man this around. Can Michael Crabtree and the other 49ers wideouts beat man coverage on the outside?
5. This wasn’t the defensive game you’d expect. (Although it wasn’t exactly cute.) There wasn’t a punt until midway through the third quarter. It was more about long, slow, productive drives and good situational defense. There were only four possessions in the first 25 minutes.
Like the Saints-49ers game, there was an explosion of scoring late in the game. The game’s four touchdowns took place in a nine minute span.
6. Frank Gore came into the game gimpy and left at halftime with zero yards on six carries. It’s impressive the 49ers managed to win despite only 50 yards from their running backs. New York will probably load up and try to make Smith beat them again.
7. Braylon Edwards ran bad routes and had communication issues with Smith twice in the red zone. Smith’s few misfires looked to be Edwards’ fault. It’s easy to see why the 49ers cut Edwards.
8. This got way too long, so I’m going to do another post later on observations from when the Giants had the ball. You can also check out a preview by Silva for NBCSports.com. Our PFT picks are right here.