Giants vs. 49ers
January 03, 2003
The matchups when the Giants run the ball
The one consistency for the 49ers has been their ability to stop the run. Linebackers Derek Smith, Julian Peterson and Jeff Ulbrich have made the tackles, and the line has performed well in the gap-control defense. Giants running back Tiki Barber was a non-factor in the season opener four months ago, gaining 29 yards on 15 carries. Barber finished with 1,387 yards rushing for the season, including a 203-yard performance in a final-week victory over Philadelphia, in which he also fumbled three times.
WHEN THE GIANTS PASS THE BALL
Giants quarterback Kerry Collins has been productive but also up-and-down. A perfect example was the season opener when he passed for 342 yards against the 49ers but threw three interceptions. Collins likes to attack down the field, which is something the 49ers have not been good at defending. The 49ers will be even more vulnerable if cornerback Jason Webster can't play because of an ankle sprain. The Giants have dangerous threats in receiver Amani Toomer and tight end Jeremy Shockey.
WHEN THE 49ERS RUN THE BALL
The 49ers have owned a sort of disjointed running game for most of the season, with Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow splitting carries and neither able to get into a rhythm. Hearst will have something to prove on Sunday; he is coming off a two-fumble game against the Rams. The Giants have a big, physical defensive front. They have the kind of defense that is difficult to run against, especially in the playoffs when the yards become tough sledding.
WHEN THE 49ERS PASS THE BALL
The 49ers' biggest disappointment has been the way the passing game has stagnated. Quarterback Jeff Garcia has been very good on third downs, but it is not something offenses can rely upon against good defensive teams in the playoffs. The 49ers have to be able to get some big gainers as well as finish off scoring drives. Receiver Terrell Owens probably will not show rust from sitting out two weeks and he is certain to be the focus of the Giants' defense. Defensive end Michael Strahan is one of the best at rushing the passer. Edge: EVEN
It's an intriguing matchup, only because both teams have been consistently bad across the board. The 49ers had found themselves a good return man, Jimmy Williams, but he sustained a season-ending knee injury last month. Since his loss, they haven't gotten anything from their return game. The kicking game is a wash. The 49ers have kicker Jeff Chandler and punter Bill LaFleur, while the Giants have kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Allen. All four are in their first seasons and all four are unreliable.
The 49ers are at home, but they are not a particularly good home team. The Giants are as healthy as they've been in a long time and they're playing their best football of the season. The Giants' offense took off around the middle of the season when coach Jim Fassel took over the play-calling from offensive coordinator Sean Payton. Niners coach Steve Mariucci allows his offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp, to call the plays. There might not be such a thing as momentum carrying over from the regular season, but it is difficult to turn the 49ers' performance Monday night against the Rams into any sort of positive.
-- Matt Maiocco
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