Nicks seemed taller when I stood next to him following a game last season. He was wearing cleats and walking on concrete outside the Giants' locker room, giving him a little extra stature. But he also appeared to have greater strength than I had anticipated. He appeared formidable and obviously plays that way.
These visuals came to mind Saturday upon learning that Nicks would be making the trip to San Francisco with a shot at playing against the 49ers despite a hamstring injury.
The Giants do not expect to have injured running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but Nicks is the more important player in this matchup, I think. The 49ers' run defense has held its past 30 opponents without a 100-yard rusher. The Giants likely weren't going to beat San Francisco with their running game, with or without Bradshaw. But if Nicks is functioning at a high level, the Giants will have additional chances to strike downfield.
The 49ers have gotten better-than-expected play from their cornerbacks this season. Their front seven has applied pressure without blitzing. But Giants quarterback Eli Manning has shown a good feel for the pocket. If he can sidestep pressure to buy time, he's a threat on vertical passes. Nicks averages 15.1 yards per reception.
Manning ranks second only to Cam Newton in completed passes when the ball traveled more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage before it was caught. He has completed 20 of 45 such passes for 690 yards with five touchdowns, two interceptions and a 109.7 NFL passer rating, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
By the way, the 49ers' Alex Smith leads the NFL in passer rating on throws traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. He has completed 7 of 16 such attempts for 227 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 130.2 NFL passer rating, just ahead of the 130.0 for Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has the more impressive numbers: 15 of 23 for 690 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception.
Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Manning and Newton round out the top eight players in passer rating on these deep passes. Sam Bradford ranks 23rd at 67.4. Kevin Kolb is 26th at 58.1. Tarvaris Jackson is 27th at 50.0. Those NFC West quarterbacks have good company, however. Tom Brady ranks 25th (62.0) and Matt Hasselbeck ranks 32nd (28.8).
Passer rating and Total QBR are not ideal measures for quarterback play on these long throws.
Passer rating does not differentiate between yards per attempt above 12.5. As a result, it sees Smith's 14.2 yards per attempt the same as Rodgers' 30.0 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, QBR takes into account things that prevent pass attempts, namely sacks and penalties. It's impossible to know whether a sacked quarterback was planning to throw the ball 20-plus yards down the field, in this case.