- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The 3-6 New York Giants will try to stop their four-game losing streak Sunday with a 1 p.m. ET home game against the 5-4 San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium. Here are a few things we'll be watching especially closely:
1. Protecting Eli Manning. The 49ers are expected to have pass-rusher Aldon Smith for the first time all season, as he's coming off a nine-game suspension and ready to make his 2014 debut. Smith is one of the fiercest pass-rushers in the league and will make a 49ers defense that has just 15 sacks this year look a lot different than it has on any 2014 game tape. The Giants said all week that they expect Smith to play and to be a major factor, so look for them to use extra tight ends to help struggling tackles Will Beatty and Justin Pugh deal with Smith on the edge. The other thing that will help with Manning's protection is the return of Rashad Jennings to a run game that has struggled in the four games he's missed due to his knee injury. If the Giants can run the ball the way they did earlier in the year when Jennings was healthy, that should force the 49ers to respect the run game and keep them from being able to just tear off after the quarterback.
2. Stopping the run. The Giants rank 32nd in total defense and 32nd in run defense after allowing 350 yards on the ground to the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday. The 49ers rank ninth in the league in rushing offense at 122.2 yards per game, while the Giants allow an average of 144.7 rushing yards per game. After Seattle shredded them with option runs Sunday, Giants coaches worked this week on changing their teaching techniques to better reinforce the players' assignments against option plays. The players seemed to get the message. What remains to be seen is whether they can execute those assignments on game day against Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore.
3. Who catches the passes? Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said this week that the team expects opponents to begin committing more coverage to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as he continues to make plays and get attention for it. That could be a boon to some of the forgotten receiving options in the Giants' passing game, such as Rueben Randle and tight end Larry Donnell, who had big games earlier this season but haven't factored as much lately. Also watch Preston Parker, who had seven catches for 79 yards out of the slot receiver position in Seattle. That's a spot that has been very fruitful in the past for receivers under Manning. If Parker plays as well as he did Sunday, he'll continue to build trust with Manning and get those opportunities to continue catching the ball.