By January 20, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

NFC Championship Breakdown

49ers vs Giants

If the NFC Championship game on Sunday between the 49ers and the Giants is anything like their week 10 matchup than this game might go down as an instant classic, one that rivals the nail bitter the 49ers pulled out last week against the Saints. Although I don’t expect the four minute frenzy that saw the Saints and 49ers exchange touchdowns like volleys over a net, each increasing in speed until the 49ers fired one that ripped right through the Saints racket. The 49ers and Giants game will be more like a really long rally, each exchanging steady forehands (playing field position) sizing each other up, with occasional lobs (field goals) to regain position, until someone sets themselves up for the overhand smash or cross court winner just out of reach of the opponent (the final dagger touchdown).

Field position is gloriously boring to watch for fans but vitally important to winning games, just like a steady swap of forehands. This is how the 49ers have buttered their bread all year. And they can thank All Pro and Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee for that. For every 49ers stalled drive there was a booming Lee punt that followed, he finished first in league with 50.9 yards per punt average which was also good for third on the all time list. Lee dropped 28 punts within the twenty yard line leaving opponents stuck between a rock (the 49ers defense) and a hard place (the goal line). That means the 49ers can feel comfortable exchanging forehands all day with the Giants.

The first matchup saw a combined six field goals with the 49ers kicking four and the Giants only two. I don’t see that changing much. The 49ers have the edge in kicking department. Along with Lee, kicker David Akers is also a member of the 2011 double honoree club. As an All Pro and Pro Bowl player Akers has distinguished himself as the best kicker of the year and 49ers have called upon him endlessly. Akers was 84.6 percent on a whopping 44 of 52 field goal attempts (records for both field goals made and attempted in a season) and he was especially good from long range hitting seven of nine from over 50 yards. So the 49ers have to be confident with their lobs on Sunday, be they often and accurate.

It was only last week against the Saints that the 49ers found that they even have an overhand smash in their repertoire. Quarterback Alex Smith threw a last minute touchdown to win a game against Detroit earlier this year, but never in as big a moment as the playoffs, until last week. Smith drove the 49ers over 80 yards to take the lead two different times in the last three minutes of the game in order to win. Everyone recalls Giants Quarterback Eli Manning and his epic game winning drive to beat the Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl. There is the highlight etched into every football fans head of Manning escaping the rush and heaving a ball that his wide receiver miraculously traps between his hand and helmet. Then the exclamation point Manning hit Plaxico Burress for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone to win the Super Bowl. So it was established years ago that Manning is fully capable of delivering the final dagger but it has been freshly endorsed, by the Saints anyway, that Smith is adept as well. So who will be in position to deliver that final overhand smash or cross court winner?

I think Manning will be the man with the ball in his hand and a chance to tie or win the game at the end, which is a good thing for the 49ers. For one thing that means the 49ers are going to be ahead, which is kinda important. On Sunday the 49ers are going to feed the Giants a steady dose of running back Frank Gore. They will ride both Akers and Gore on a wet field, exchanging field goals and an occasional touchdown, to garner a four to seven point lead late. This puts the onus squarely on the 49ers defense to stop Manning and win the game. Although Smith proved a lot coming back twice against the Saints, it’s the 49ers defense that carries the big stick and will gladly exchange shots with Manning and his offense. They did it in week 10 and I think we are in for a repeat of sorts. It all came down to one last play. Manning had the ball in the red zone with a chance to tie, he drew his right arm back and let it go. Out of nowhere defensive end Justin Smith, with his own version of an overhand smash, swatted the ball out of the air where it landed safely on the ground ensuring a 49er victory. I see a similar finish only this time it involves a turnover. Be it a strip sack or an interception I see the 49ers defense pressuring Manning into making a crucial mistake late. Getting the ball back they run the clock out and ensure that it’s game, set, match 49ers.

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