NFC West: David Diehl
Officials have called only eight penalties for holding on offensive plays during the postseason, six of them against the NFC champion New York Giants. Three of the six were against Chris Snee, with two against David Baas and one against David Diehl.
John Parry is the referee for Super Bowl XLVI. His crew ranked third in most penalties for offensive holding during the regular season.
I've put together a chart from ESPN Stats & Information showing where Parry's crew ranked in various penalties during the 2011 season. Parry is working with an all-star crew, not his usual one. That could affect tendencies.
Parry's low ranking for unnecessary roughness appears offset, at least somewhat, by a higher number of calls for generic personal fouls.
Their surprising tactics during a 27-20 victory over the New York Giants left them with a two-game lead in the race for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The 49ers also own victories over some of the teams trailing them in the race, notably the Giants and Detroit Lions.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com put it this way: "The 49ers ran the ball 52 percent of the time through the first eight games of the season. On Sunday, Smith dropped back to pass 35 times, while the 49ers called just 14 run plays before Smith took a knee three times at the end of the game to run out the clock." Noted: Even one of the team's early "runs" came on a called pass play featuring a scramble from Smith. When Smith later set up a field goal with a run up the middle, I thought the play appeared to have come off by design. The team sent three players on what appeared to be vertical routes along the left side. Smith quickly took off up the middle. That play was not scripted, however. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Smith ran upon seeing the Giants' coverage.
Also from Maiocco: Justin Smith and Patrick Willis keyed what might have been the team's most impressive victory of the season. Maiocco: "Smith and Willis are legitimate candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as the 49ers have forged an 8-1 record with seven games remaining. Smith has 4.5 sacks to go along with his two game-clinching plays this season. In Week 4, he wrapped up a 24-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles when he chased down speedy wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and forced a fumble that ended the Eagles' final threat. On Sunday, Smith rushed against Giants left guard David Diehl on the final play after playing every defensive snap in the game. He knocked down Eli Manning's fourth-down pass with his right arm." Noted: Smith and Will should get strong consideration for that award, but players with lots of sacks and interceptions have an easier time getting noticed. Demarcus Ware and Jared Allen jump out as obvious frontrunners based on their sack counts.
Also from Maiocco: The Giants' Justin Tuck told Alex Smith he meant no disrespect with comments Tuck made earlier in the week.
Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com says Alex Smith is showing there's no shame in the "game manager" title for quarterbacks. Ratto: "He is about to get the full NFL myth-makeover, because nobody in decades has done what he has done -- toil in abject humiliation for almost twice the length of the average NFL career and then suddenly come up aces and kings. And while he’ll still have the earnest inflections and sincere eyes and aw-shucks demeanor, a little bit of the I-told-you-so will leak out here and there. He has a lot of I-told-you-sos saved up, and now that his allegedly small hands have a firm grip on the second-best team in football, he will let them slip out here and there. He has this coming to him."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Frank Gore downplayed the severity of his knee injury and said he could have continued playing if Tom Rathman, the running backs coach, had allowed it. Noted: This might be a good time for the 49ers to give Gore the week off from practice and possibly even a game off. He's been injured off and on this season, and durability was already a concern after he missed the final five games to a hip injury last season.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat uses the word "masterpiece" to describe the 49ers' victory. Cohn: "This was a beautiful win for the Niners because the Giants had pulled ahead, as expected, took a gritty, hard-fought 13-12 lead late in the third quarter and it seemed the 49ers were done. Who could blame them? They had held on against these smart, tough, well-coached Giants and it would be no shame to surrender just a little bit. But the 49ers didn't surrender. They came back, Alex Smith throwing a perfect strike to Vernon Davis all alone, and Davis barged ahead like a runaway truck and then jumped in the air and flew into the end zone over the body of Giants safety Kenny Phillips. The man flew. And the Niners took the lead and never gave it up."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News calls Justin Smith the 49ers' closer while saying this might have been Alex Smith's finest moment with the 49ers.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle offers postgame notes, including one from Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who claimed he got the best of Carlos Rogers throughout the game. Noted: Rogers didn't seem to be the one giving up most of the Giants' yardage, but I'll check out the replay for a closer look.
Also from Branch: Rogers has found his hands.
- Golden Tate showed up early, but you had to look closely. Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu caught the touchdown passes for Seattle, but Tate did his part as well. The scoring play Obomanu made on a receiver screen in the first quarter came together when Sidney Rice ran his defender out of the play, with Tate chopping down Giants safety Antrel Rolle on the perimeter. Without Tate's block, Rolle had a good shot at stopping Obomanu short of the end zone. Tate also got open for a key third-quarter reception to help the Seahawks improve field position in a close game. I'm not sure where or whether Tate fits in this offense for the long term, but he did make a couple contributions in this victory.
- Steven Hauschka played an important role. The kicker? Really? Yes. Hauschka had only one touchback on his nine kickoffs through the first three weeks of the season. He has eight touchbacks in 12 kickoffs over the past two weeks. Those touchbacks have helped Seattle ease lingering concerns over a kickoff coverage unit that had struggled amid injuries for a stretch. The Giants returned three kickoffs in this game, all from inside the end zone. Two of those produced drive starts inside the 20. Hauschka also made a 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
- Okung was struggling early. The first pressure Seattle allowed appeared to stem from a system-wide breakdown. Left tackle Russell Okung blocked no one, turning to the inside while Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora rushed unopposed. Marshawn Lynch tripped while reversing course to pick up Umenyiora. Tarvaris Jackson held the ball instead of dumping off to Michael Robinson. Strange. Later in the first quarter, Umenyiora beat Okung for a drive-killing sack. He also made Okung whiff on a running play, freeing Umenyiora to force a Lynch fumble. Okung did drive Giants defensive lineman Dave Tollefson across the formation to clear the way for Lynch's short scoring run.
- Chris Clemons was a big problem for the Giants. Seattle's best pass-rusher gave Giants linemen Will Beatty and David Diehl problems, and not just when he was sacking Eli Manning and forcing a fumble. One highlight: Diehl tackled Clemons on one play, drawing a penalty for holding. Clemons got up, realized Manning still had the ball and hit the quarterback from behind just after the throw. It's pretty clear Clemons has put behind him the ankle troubles that have bothered him at times. The bye week should only help him along those lines.
- Coaches need to protect their quarterbacks. Unless a Cam Newton or Tim Tebow type is on your team, it's tough to forgive a coach for getting his quarterback hurt on a designed run. The play that left Jackson with an injured pectoral was the type of play that leaves a quarterback with an injured pectoral (or something else). Backup Charlie Whitehurst also took some hits in this game, whether scrambling or absorbing the punishment that comes with playing quarterback from the pocket. I'd expect the coaching staff to minimize such risks to a greater extent.
The Seahawks are off this week. I'm heading out to their facility to catch their final practice of the week Wednesday. It's off to Detroit this weekend for the San Francisco 49ers' game at Detroit.
- The fake injuries looked worse on TV. Replays showing the Giants' Deon Grant and Jacquian Williams falling down to stop the Rams' no-huddle offense were comical. Neither player was touched. A Vlade Divac flop would have been more convincing. No wonder the league threatened to issues fines for future shenanigans.
- Sam Bradford threw to the covered guy. Receiver Brandon Gibson was wide open on a second-and-2 pick play from the Giants' 7-yard line. Bradford had time to throw even though the Giants rushed seven against six blockers. He threw outside to Mike Sims-Walker, who was covered, while Gibson skated free toward the left hash on the same side of the field. Gibson would have scored easily, it appeared. By design or through an oversight, Bradford never seemed to notice him.
- Three tight ends weren't a charm. The Rams ran four snaps with three tight ends. Those plays produced two incomplete passes, a 1-yard loss on a running play and a 15-yard sack when the Giants stayed home to cut off the bootleg, something they did well.
- Robert Quinn and James Hall played together. Both are right defensive ends. Hall starts and Quinn comes off the bench. Because Hall is stout for an end, yet still a strong pass-rusher, he's well-suited to rush from the inside on passing downs. That's what he did in this game, lining up at right defensive tackle. Quinn, making his regular-season debut, was at right end. Hall beat Giants left guard David Diehl to the inside for a sack on third-and-7, getting through before center David Baas could help. Will Beatty, the Giants' left tackle, blatantly held Quinn on the play, gripping the rookie around the shoulders to restrain him. There was no flag.
- Quinn's first career sack was a freebie. They all count the same on the stat sheet, but the Rams' rookie defensive end will not get many opportunities like this one. The Giants did not block him. Quarterback Eli Manning did not account for him. Quinn raced around the left tackle, who was blocking safety Darian Stewart. Manning was alone in the backfield from a shotgun formation. Quinn took five steps directly to the quarterback.
Generally I'll get these files done earlier in the week. The Monday night game pushed back the usual schedule. Still playing catchup.
Little or nothing about the matchup itself appears to favor Seattle. But even a decent performance at home can sometimes carry a team to victory through improbable means.
The Giants famously committed 11 false-start penalties and missed three field goals at Qwest Field in 2005, helping Seattle escape with a 24-21 overtime victory. The Seahawks had a Super Bowl team that season, however, whereas the current team is rebuilding and far less healthy.
If the Seahawks do pull an upset Sunday, home-field edge will surely come into play. It's just tough to bank on the false-start storyline given how much the Giants have improved in that area under coach Tom Coughlin:
- Tackle David Diehl has only 12 false-start penalties over the last four seasons, including zero in 2010, after racking up 21 from 2004 to 2006.
- Luke Petitgout, who committed 10 false-start penalties for the Giants in 2005, had three in 2006, his final season with the team.
- Guard Chris Snee had seven false-start penalties in 2004, Coughlin's first season with the team. He has only one over the last three seasons.
Seattle's opponents have committed 99 false-start penalties at Qwest Field since 2005, the highest figure for any stadium in the league. The Giants committed three there during a 2006 game between the teams.
The chart shows how many false-start penalties the Giants have incurred per season under Coughlin.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The defending Super Bowl champion Giants feature only four current and former Pro Bowl players on their 53-man roster now that Jeremy Shockey has left, Michael Strahan has retired and Osi Umenyiora and David Tyree have landed on injured reserve.
What does it mean for the Giants? Not much, so far. The team proved its mettle last season by shrugging off Shockey's injury to win a Super Bowl. Now, the Giants, heavy favorites to defeat the Rams in St. Louis today, are looking for their 11th consecutive road victory.
I went through my roided-out Giants roster to make sure jersey numbers, heights and weights matched the latest information. But the fun resides in checking out some of the breakdowns.
We see 25 players drafted by the Giants, including 23 drafted under coach Tom Coughlin and one apiece under coaches Jim Fassel (David Diehl) and Dan Reeves (Amani Toomer). We see a team heavy on players from the ACC and Pac-10. Plus a look at every player who has spent time on the Giants' roster for the last year-plus. And lots, lots more.