- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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I'll be heading down to the Bay Area for that one.
A few notes from my discussion with Williamson on Tuesday ...
Mike Sando: Let's cut right to the important stuff. Who you taking?
Matt Williamson: I like San Francisco. I don't feel super strong about it. They're not going to blow out good teams, but they are so hard to play against. Their front seven, their defense is elite. They will run the ball reasonably well against the Giants. Eli Manning is playing very well. I am curious what the Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw injury situations look like. That is a rough road trip, though. The 49ers are a better team in theory.
Mike Sando: The 49ers did blow out Tampa Bay, 48-3. Would you consider the Buccaneers to be a good team?
Matt Williamson: The Bucs are a mediocre team, a 7-9 or 8-8 team, and they are extremely young.
Mike Sando: The Giants own a couple impressive wins, but when I saw them against Arizona and Seattle, they did not seem as physical as the old NFC East pedigree suggests. Beanie Wells ran all over them. The Seahawks beat them. Seems to me the 49ers will run on them.
Giants Run Defense: Last Six Games
Matt Williamson: I was really critical of the Patriots last week for not running more. The Giants are susceptible. You know the Niners are going to come out in double-tight end sets and make them take that run away. The Giants' defense is not very good at the second level. The d-line is exceptional and better against the pass than the run. Their linebackers are awful. Michael Boley is pretty good, but he's a coverage player. I like their secondary.
Mike Sando: I saw an interesting breakdown from ESPN Stats & Information. Manning has been good in most situations and especially good when defenses come after him with five or more pass-rushers. The 49ers rarely have to send added pressure. Are they the perfect defense against Manning?
Matt Williamson: I think they are the perfect defense to beat anybody. I used to think their secondary was a liability, but it's not. Carlos Rogers is very good. Maybe he plays Nicks or Mario Manningham. Those are not terrible matchups for the 49ers with safety support. The big thing about the Giants is that Manning has been able to camouflage their weaknesses. Their offensive line has not played well at all. Their protection is not very good. That is a problem against Justin Smith.
Mike Sando: The idea that Manning is compensating for the Giants' weaknesses on offense comes while the 49ers are getting credit for "hiding" their quarterback, Alex Smith. I'd like your thoughts on the subject.
Matt Williamson: Hiding the quarterback is harder than ever. You cannot do a 2000 Ravens situation as easily now. The 49ers ask very little of Alex Smith. They would be in trouble if they were at Green Bay and down 17-0.
Mike Sando: Wouldn't everyone be in trouble down 17-0 at Green Bay?
Matt Williamson: No doubt, but the 49ers are less equipped than some teams to come from behind against a good opponent. They are efficient. Smith is not making mistakes. Jim Harbaugh has done a tremendous job with him. Smith doesn't throw it very well, but he is smart and mobile. Those are things people liked about him coming out of college. They are rolling him out, protecting him with double-tight end sets, big bodies, and the supporting cast is stepping up. He is throwing reasonably accurately, Michael Crabtree is improving, Frank Gore is playing great, Braylon Edwards could still come on. They mask Smith, but he has done what is asked of him. It's not like a Jets situation where they do everything they can to hide Mark Sanchez and he still makes eight terrible throws in a game, plus three great ones. Smith has not gone above and beyond the call, but he has not needed to. It's like criticizing teams for beating bad teams. They are the teams on the schedule.
QB Comparison: Eli Manning and Alex Smith
Mike Sando: Back to Eli Manning. Like Smith, he was a No. 1 overall pick. Both are winning this season. They have similar NFL passer ratings. Let's discuss the differences.
Matt Williamson: Eli is a much better player, the foundation of that offense. Alex Smith is just a piece. Eli is making a bad offensive line serviceable. They had no Nicks, no Bradshaw last week and he is moving the team with Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard. If Manning and Smith switched teams, the Niners might be the best team in the league with Manning, including better than Green Bay, and the Giants might win two games. Going to New England without Bradshaw and Nix, the Giants would have lost 30-7 if Smith were their quarterback. What those quarterbacks are capable of isn't even close. Smith was not the usual No. 1 overall quarterback in terms of gifts.
Mike Sando: How do those gifts manifest themselves?
Matt Williamson: Someone asked me recently how good Andy Dalton can be. Before the season, I thought there were six elite quarterbacks, including Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. Matt Ryan was probably No. 7, but he cannot get to six, whereas Sam Bradford or Matthew Stafford or Josh Freeman can. Ryan has gotten everything out of his abilities. That is Dalton to me. He can be a very effective franchise quarterback, but not elite. If anybody is going to break into that elite group, Eli is probably that guy. He can throw off his back foot in the cold and thread the needle 35 yards downfield. Eli can make that throw. Alex Smith cannot. Watch the Super Bowl and Aaron Rodgers makes four throws only a few guys on the planet can make, and that is why they win the game. The crazy, off-balance, rolling out, across his body laser throw. Joe Flacco can make that throw. Alex Smith can never make that throw, and every defensive coordinator in the world knows it.
Mike Sando: True, there are very few "wow" moments watching Smith. But the 49ers are 7-1 with him. There are games when a team needs its quarterback to make the spectacular throw, but many more games when that is not necessary. If the 49ers keep winning, they'll have an interesting decision to make. Smith's playing on a one-year deal.
Matt Williamson: It's like the Ryan Fitzpatrick situation in Buffalo, where things were going so well. Except Fitzpatrick is much streakier. He is a gunslinger without the gunslinger tools. It's tough to be critical if you sign the guy. Things are looking up, you don't want to start over with a rookie or Colin Kaepernick, you're not going to get anyone in free agency, but if you're Buffalo, you still might use a second-round pick on a guy with a big arm. Smith is a tough one, too. He is going to want money and deserve money, but if he goes somewhere else, he could really flop.