Friday, January 20, 2012

Giants: NFC Championship game week

Formulating a game plan is not just about the OC and the DC going into their silos and devising the best strategy for success for their particular units. It is also about the HC supervising the overall approach and making sure the two units have a game plan that is consistent with the overall strategy of defeating the opponent. Parcells was always the master of this method - it wasn't just figuring out how to score points - it was also understanding, for example, if your defense had an advantage in some manner over the opposing offense and therefore deciding whether the offense should play conservatively or aggressively. We may have seen a corollary of that theory with the signing by the Saints of Spagnuolo as their DC for next year. Spags likes to play an aggressive, attacking style defense, taking risks with his pressures. That style matches an offense that plays up tempo itself and can make up for an occasional mistake by the defense with a quick strike of its own. It also certainly matches with an offense that will often get a lead and play from ahead, opening the door to pressure an opposing offense that is forced to pass more often than it may be accustomed to.

How do we apply that theory of overall game planning to this game on Sunday. The primary approach would be to look at both units of the 49ers. First, their offense is not that explosive. They have a big play TE in Vernon Davis but their WRs have not had great years. Crabtree has some skill, but he has been a bit of a disappointment in the league and is not the big play WR that the 49ers thought he would be when they took him in the first round. Ted Ginn has good straight line speed but is not a great WR and the injury report says he is having some knee issues. The 49ers have been a running based offense this year, relying on their power RB Frank Gore, who in addition to his power, has just enough speed to break a run if the tackling is poor and the discipline in swarming to the ball by the defense is a little off. With more of a conservative offense, the Giants defense certainly has to stop the run, but be careful not to oversell to do so. The 49ers OL is big and can run block but has not been as solid pass blocking.

Looking at the other side of the ball, I believe there is the same disparity in the 49ers defense. They play 3-4 with a very good front 7, particularly led by their two very fast inside LBs, NaVorro and Willis, and have been very effective stopping the run this year. But I don't think their pass defense is as strong and they rely on pressure and good LB play in zone coverage to defend the pass.

Giants run defense has been very good last few weeks, stopping a better running game than the 49ers have in the Falcons two weeks ago. You have to anticipate that with the foul weather, it might be a low scoring game and you cannot change who you are, bring 8 or 9 up to the line of scrimmage and get beat on a play action pass deep. I would not be surprised to see Harbaugh pull out a trick play to fool the Giants.

Matching that conservative 49ers offense, it would be great if the Giants can turn this into a passing QB duel, weather notwithstanding. The optimum would be if the Giants are aggressive early, get ahead and force the 49ers to play from behind taking them out of their conservative running game. I would not take inordinate risks with the ball, of course, because with that slightly underpowered offense, the 49ers rely on turnovers to score points for their offense; remember last week when Saints gave away 17 points on turnovers. But you have to throw the ball to move the 49ers LBs away from the line of scrimmage. Using Ballard and Cruz to occupy the LBs might be a good tactic which could open up some throws to the outside. Conversely, the 49ers paying a lot of attention to the outside could open the middle of the field. Giants OL has to block them and if they do, Giants should be able to move the ball through the air. 49ers have one pretty good CB in Carlos Rogers and their S position is effective, but not great. On defense, I would not playing a gambling, pressuring style that gives Smith a chance to score by breaking one play here or there. Giants should go the route they did against the Packers and Falcons -  rely on the DL to pressure the QB and put the onus on the DB-field to play well against the WRs. If they were able to contain the explosive WRs of the Packers and Falcons and hold TEs Jermichael Finley and Tony Gonzalez down, they should be able to handle the 49ers offense with a similar plan. Giants were very focused on Finley last week - part of their game plan was "smack # 88 every chance you get". The same approach should be in play this week with the defense - try not to let him get a clean, easy release off the line of scrimmage. But more than that, Giants need to have a S to give help on top to the LB that may cover him underneath. Giants will give the double coverage to TE Davis and expect the CBs to handle their assignments with a little less help than usual.

Boley in pass defense on Davis and Kiwanuka in run defense are important LBs this week. Of course, the DL needs to win its battle against the 49ers in the running game and give the LBs room to run down hill to make tackles. Giants did reasonably well stopping the run in the first 49ers game, but that doesn't mean it will work this time. You know what they say - past performance is not an indicator of future results. Osi should be a little more of a situational pass rusher this week than playing early downs against the run, because he is a little weaker in run defense. Giants did not get a good pass rush in the regular season game against the 49ers and they made Smith look better than he really is. But we all have observed that this is not the same defense that played back then. Giants defense, against explosive offenses of Cowboys, Falcons and Packers in the last 3 weeks have given up a total of 36 points.  49ers are a solid, well coached team and the Giants need to play well and play a clean game to win. Turnovers are always important of course, but with an opportunistic defense matched with the conservative, relatively unexplosive offense that the 49ers have, it is even more important that the Giants don't give it away (sheesh, I sound like those two dopes on NFL Network now).

Weather of course is a factor and is impossible to predict how it will affect the game. The current forecast is for 80% chance of showers today, 40% chance of showers on Saturday and 30% on Sunday. The forecast is also for heavy winds with gusts up to 25-35 MPH Friday, which actually could be good news. Strong wind dries up some of the ground water and may make for a slightly more playable field. The field should be covered until Sunday also helping its condition. Further, the forecast is not for drenching rains all day, rather for showers each of these days. Sunday the wind is expected to be around 10MPH - not great, but not terrible and Eli is certainly used to playing in windy conditions.

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