Keys to the Game - NY Giants vs. San Francisco

By Lance Zierlein
January 21, 2012

Can the surging Giants complete the task? Lance Zierlein breaks down the NFC Championship game.

Hot Spots

NY Giants

  • Eli Manning - Manning's passer rating has gone down with each passing month, but he off to a fast start in the playoffs. You better get to Manning early because he 18 TDs, 7 INTs and a QB Rating over 105 in pass attempts 21-40. As the game goes on, he gets better.
  • Ahmad Bradshaw - While Manning gets better as the game goes on, Bradshaw prefers to do his damage early on. Bradshaw is averaging 1.3 more yards per carry in his first ten carries of the game than carries 11-20. He also has 6 of his 9 rushing TDs during his first ten carries of the game. Can he get going early against the 49'ers stingy rush defense though?
  • Jason Pierre-Paul - JPP is incredibly consistent with his sacks numbers being spread fairly evenly between the quarters and the first and second half of the season. What was interesting is that he had 5 of his 16.5 sacks this year on first down so even if you think you are fooling him by throwing the ball on first down, he can still get to your QB.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Vernon Davis - Davis didn't have as big of a statistical season this year as we've seen from him in the past, but he has the potential to make big plays at anytime. The thing is.... he prefers to do it in the second half. All 6 of Davis' TDs came in the second half of games and he averaged 14 yards per catch with 4 TDs in the third quarter this season.
  • Frank Gore - Much like Ahmad Bradshaw, Gore is a much better runner in his first ten carries of a game than after that mark. Gore average 5.1 yards per carry during his first ten carries and scored 7 of his 8 rushing TDs during that span of carries as well.
  • Carlos Rogers - Rogers earned a Pro Bowl invitation thanks in large part to his cover-corner skills and his 6 interceptions. What is amazing is that all 6 of his INTs came on first or second down. In other words, Rogers was playing a much more aggressive brand of coverage on first and second down which allowed him to make plays on the ball.

Giants Keys to the Game

  1. Slow Down Frank Gore

    I know that Alex Smith had a good 4th quarter against the Saints, but it is unrealistic to expect him to carry his offense which is why the Giants need to try and make him do just that.

  2. Exploit Matchups in the Secondary

    For as good as the 49ers rush defense is, their secondary is still somewhat average in coverage. The Giants will have favorable matchups in their passing game throughout the game and Eli must take advantage of those.

  3. Avoid the Turnovers

    Drew Brees and the Saints were victimized by San Francisco's opportunistic defense and the same thing could happen to the Giants if they don't take very good care of the ball.

49ers Keys to the Game

  1. Take it Away, Take it Away

    The 49ers have victimized just about every other team they've faced with their penchant for turning their opponents over and they need to continue that trend against Eli Manning who isn't afraid to make mistakes.

  2. Vernon Davis Must Respond

    Davis was big in the 4th quarter of the win over the Saints, but he didn't do much in the 49ers first win over the Giants this year. Davis can go a long way towards giving Alex Smith the confidence that he needs in this one.

  3. Keep Alex Smith Clean

    Joe Staley and Anthony Davis have their hands full as they take on the pass rush of the Giants and Davis is of particular concern to me because he can be so inconsistent with his pass protection.

Key Matchup

Eli Manning has that look in his eye once again and if the Giants start slinging the ball around, 49er CB Chris Culliver is going to have to prove he can handle the Giants slot receivers including Victor Cruz.


The 49ers are a good team. They won during the regular season, they beat the Saints last weekend, they are well-coached and they can run the football. I don't doubt them. However, I also don't doubt the Giants right now as they are putting everything together at just the right time and are playing the most balanced football of any team left in the playoffs at this point.

Giants – 20 — 49ers – 17

Second photo from Jaymi Heimbuch