In a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game, the Giants head to San Francisco to take on the 49ers in this Week 6 matchup. Alex Smith, off to a great start through five weeks, leads his team into a battle against Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. Smith is currently our fifth-rated signal-caller (while Manning sits in second place) and his improved performance this year is a large reason that San Francisco leads all other teams in overall offense. Combine that with the star power on defense, with players like NaVorro Bowman (+13.4), and the 49ers will be a force to be reckoned with.
As previously mentioned, Giants quarterback Manning (+19.7) is also off to a hot start. He is tied for fourth in the NFL with 8.0 yards per attempt and makes the offense, with weapons like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, a very scary proposition, even for a defense of the 49ers’ caliber. Though both teams have defenses that are known for bringing the heat, this game should come down to these two signal-callers. That is the way of the NFL nowadays.
49ers Offensive Line vs. Giants Defensive Line
In recent years, the Giants have been known for their fierce pass rush and in particular their defensive line’s passing-down packages. However, the defensive ends have disappointed so far in this young season. Jason Pierre-Paul has been one of the league’s best run defenders from the defensive end position, but his productivity as a pass-rusher (ranked only 15th among 4-3 ends) hasn’t blown anybody away. On the opposite side, Justin Tuck has managed only a paltry six total QB pressures in 121 attempts. Coming on the back of his new contract, Osi Umenyiora’s 10 pressures (giving him a Pass Rush Productivity rating of only 6.7), is scant reward for the team’s faith, and is good for only 24th at his position. While the D-line certainly has the potential to be great, they will need to step it up and get to the passer in this contest.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers’ offensive line has been one of the best units in the league. Last year’s right guard Adam Snyder was a major liability and Alex Boone (+13.1) has proved to be a huge upgrade. Tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis have allowed their quarterback to be hit only six times all year, and they have been even better blocking in the run game. The fact that Davis has the lowest grade for the Niners’ starting offensive lineman at +7.2 suggests that it could be a long game for the front four of the G-men.
Giants Receivers vs. 49ers Secondary
New York would sure like to have all of their weapons in the passing game healthy for this game, but it is unclear if that will be the case. Hakeem Nicks has been banged up, but he is currently the team’s highest-rated pass-catcher in only 133 snaps this season. The status of tight end Martellus Bennett (our equal-9th rated receiver among tight ends) is also in doubt for Sunday. Victor Cruz has played nearly twice as many snaps as any other Giants receiver and he will look to continue to lead this group of receivers. Domenic Hixon and Ramses Barden have been impressive in limited action in 2012.
If there is any position group on San Francisco that hasn’t been outstanding so far, it would have to be the secondary. Second-year man Chris Culliver has been excellent, only allowing a reception every 29 snaps in coverage. However, starting cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rodgers have combined to allow 450 yards and an NFL QB rating of 101.3 when QBs throw into their coverage, and they have not been able to build off a strong 2011 campaign. Of the two starting safeties, Dashon Goldson has been the team’s strongest player in pass coverage, while Donte Whitner has been the weakest. He’s also missed an NFL fourth-worst eight tackles, one more than he missed in the whole of 2011 including the playoffs. They will face a very tough task against Manning and a great group of Giants receivers.
Encore Performance on the Ground?
Last week against Cleveland, Ahmad Bradshaw tallied 200 rushing-yards on 20 carries. While this is a performance to be proud of, the Brown’s defense is nothing like what the 49ers bring to the table. Defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald make up two of the top six 3-4 ends in run stop percentage. All four of the starting linebackers for San Francisco have positive ratings against the run, and Bowman in particular is having another outstanding season — he’s second only to Derrick Johnson among inside linebackers in run stop percentage. Not including sacks, the group has also totaled 55 stops (tackles considered a defeat for the offense). There is no tougher team to run on than the 49ers right now.
As for the Giants, their run blocking efficiency actually went up after losing David Diehl to injury. Only two offensive tackles have a higher run block rating than William Beatty, who has stepped in and played very well indeed. That said, the rest of the Giants’ line has managed only a -1.8 run block rating as a group. Sparingly-used full back Henry Hynoski has performed well as a blocker, but overall the Giants will have a much tougher time running the ball this week.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @PFF_Kevin