NFL Nation: Final Word NFC 2011 Conference

Final Word: Giants at 49ers

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
1:30
PM ET
Conference Championship Final Word: Ravens-Patriots | Giants-49ers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Giants-49ers NFC Championship Game:

Too hot to handle? Everyone's expecting a tough, hard-fought game, but the Giants really haven't been playing those. They have won their first two playoff games, against the Falcons and Packers, by a combined score of 61-22. And according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants are the fifth team since 1990 to win their first two playoff games by at least 17 points. Of the previous four, three won the Super Bowl -- the 1991 Redskins, the 1996 Packers and the 2002 Buccaneers. The only one of those teams that didn't win the Super Bowl was the 2002 Raiders, who lost to those aforementioned 2002 Buccaneers. The 49ers are an imposing foe, to be be sure, but the scores so far hint that it's at least possible that the Giants are on the same kind of run those other teams were.

[+] EnlargeOsi Umenyiora
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOsi Umenyiora and the rest of the Giants' defensive line has provided a fierce pass rush in recent weeks.
Four's company: The Giants and the 49ers both rely on pressuring the passer with their defensive front rather than sending linebackers or defensive backs to blitz. Both teams are very good at it. The Giants have more sacks (34 to 31) than the 49ers when applying pressure with four or fewer. But according to ESPN Stats & Info, the 49ers have a higher duress/hit percentage, hitting or forcing the quarterback to throw under duress on 19.4 percent of dropbacks when sending four or fewer. The Giants' percentage is 15.1. The 49ers also have more interceptions (20 to 15) and a lower opponent's Total QBR (49.9 to 68.8) when sending four or fewer. For the Giants, it also matters who the four are. They are averaging a sack every 7.0 pass attempts when Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka are on the field together. When they aren't, the Giants get a sack every 15.6 pass attempts.

Marked man: The 49ers' offense has struggled in the red zone this season. Quarterback Alex Smith has completed only 40 percent of his red-zone passes, which is the second-worst figure in the league. But when he targets tight end Vernon Davis in the red zone, he has more success. Smith has targeted Davis nine times in the red zone this season, and five of those targets resulted in touchdown catches. Smith has thrown a total of five touchdown passes to all of his other red-zone targets combined this season. Last week's Giants game plan against Green Bay stressed that they "beat the hell" out of Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. Expect a similar plan against the big, physical Davis, who's the 49ers' top receiving threat.

Final Word: Giants at 49ers

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
1:30
PM ET
Conference Championship Final Word: Ravens-Patriots | Giants-49ers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Giants-49ers NFC Championship Game:

1. Wide receivers wanted: Alex Smith's passes to tight end Vernon Davis were the difference in the 49ers' 36-32 victory over New Orleans in the divisional round. San Francisco could use more production from its wide receivers against the Giants. Smith averaged a whopping 20 yards per attempt when targeting Davis, but the averages were minuscule for wideouts Ted Ginn Jr. (3.7), Michael Crabtree (2.8) and Kyle Williams (2.4). Crabtree had only 21 yards against the Giants in Week 10, his second-lowest figure of the season. Time to step up?

[+] EnlargeMichael Crabtree
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireThe 49ers stand to benefit from better production from receiver Michael Crabtree against the Giants.
2. Breaking tendencies: In Week 10, the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul injured 49ers running back Frank Gore with a violent tackle on a predictable running play from San Francisco's 22 personnel grouping (two backs, two tight ends). At the time, I thought the 49ers could benefit from mixing in downfield strikes when using heavier personnel, especially in short-yardage situations. They have not attempted a pass this season when using 22 personnel with 1-2 yards needed for a first down. They had 21 runs and a quarterback scramble on those plays. The 49ers have called passes 15 percent of the time when needing a yard for a first down. The league average is 30 percent. This might be a good week to break from tendency.

3. Keeping Manning honest: Giants quarterback Eli Manning was 7-of-9 for a season-high 155 yards and two touchdowns when using play fakes against Green Bay last week, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 49ers should fare much better in this category if their run defense continues to hold up without committing additional defenders to the box. The 49ers' defense led the NFL in fewest rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing first downs allowed. The Giants' offense was 32nd, 32nd and 24th in those categories, respectively.

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