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NFC Championship Preview

19 Jan

Can the Niners drag down the Giants again? Pictured: Niners CB Tarell Brown tackles Giants WR Hakeem Nicks

By Curtis M. Gaines

Thanks to a disheartening loss by Green Bay last week the road to the Super Bowl now goes through San Francisco.

Questions concerning San Francisco’s offense that have been posed since the beginning of the season came to fruition last week when San Francisco edged out the New Orleans Saints in what may very well have been the best game of the year, if not decade.

Those questions were answered with an explosion of exclamations starting with Alex Smith. Last week all doubt was lifted as Smith took the bull by the horns and led the San Francisco offense down the field, not once, but twice in the closing minutes of an emotional and intense game.

The naysayers that said Smith could not go head to head with a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers were, for now, silenced. Against the Saints, it wasn’t the defense that bailed out the sluggish offense but quite the opposite, which could only mean great things to come for this young and hungry 49ers football team.

This week the resurgent New York Giants look to avenge its Week 10 loss to San Francisco and further its post-season as the NFC champions. This is not the same opponent San Francisco faced in Week 10. They are finally healthy at their running back position with Ahmad Bradshaw back from his cracked foot and their secondary is equally healthy.

However, this is not the same San Francisco team they faced earlier this season either. Judging from their play against Green Bay the Giants made a few mistakes that could prove detrimental if they choose to utilize the same defensive stratagem against San Francisco.

Rodgers exploited the Giants countless times Sunday capitalizing on their over-pursuing pass rush by stepping up into the pocket and scrambling for 66 yards and five first downs. This poses an interesting dilemma for New York this week against San Francisco. How will they fair against a run heavy offense? Will they have their defensive ends stay home to defend against pitches and reverses? Will they get the pressure they need to create problems for Alex Smith and force him into making bad decisions?

Kendall Hunter running past Spencer Paysinger for a Week 10 TD

Keep in mind when these two teams last met Frank Gore was held out of much of the game, but his backup Kendall Hunter ran six times for 40 yards and a score. With both running backs healthy it will be difficult for the Giants to gain any sort of defensive rhythm with Gore pounding between the tackles and Hunter eating up yards on pitch plays, screens and swing passes.

Because Gore and Hunter both are threats running between the tackle and as receivers, it would be a fallacy to think New York can key in on downs Hunter subs in for Gore and vice versa. Hunter, however, has a propensity to make big gains on plays outside of the tackles and screen plays which will spread the Giants defense and leave room for the 49ers to work the middle of the field and take vertical shots with Crabtree and Davis.

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