49ers-Giants: Matchups to watch

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49ers-Giants: Matchups to watch

SAN FRANCISCO -- This week's "Matchup to Watch" is more like a "Comparison to Watch."The 49ers (7-1) face the New York Giants (6-2) on Sunday at Candlestick Park in a game that could send the 49ers well on their way to a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.The game will feature the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft against the top selection of the 2005 draft. And all eyes will definitely be on the quarterbacks.Tale of the tape
Giants QB Eli Manning (10): 6-4, 218, Mississippi, eighth season
49ers QB Alex Smith (11): 6-4, 217, Utah, seventh seasonManning enters the game with a 98.8 passer rating, which ranks fifth in the NFL. He is viewed as the main reason the Giants lead the NFC East.Smith ranks sixth in the NFL with a 97.3 rating. The general perception seems to be that he is along for the ride, as the 49ers have compiled the second-best record in the entire NFL with their running game, defense and special teams.Through eight games, Manning has averaged 113.8 yards passing more per game than Smith. But where Smith has excelled is in making all the right decisions.Smith accounted for just four turnovers in the first eight games (two interceptions, two lost fumbles). His care in taking care of the football is a big reason the 49ers rank second in the league with a plus-12 turnover margin. Meanwhile, Manning has turned it over eight times with six interceptions and two lost fumbles."He's playing smart football," Manning said of Smith. "That's what you have to do at this level. It seems like he's getting completions and throwing high-percentage passes, and not throwing dangerous balls and taking the risk of interceptions. He's playing well and the whole team is."However, not everybody in the Giants locker room shared the level of respect that Manning expressed for the job Smith is doing this season."He's a guy that they're trying to keep out of position of having to win a football game," Giants defensive captain Justin Tuck said. "With a back like Frank Gore and that O-line keeping them in third-and-short situations, even when it's third and 6 or 7, they're still very confident they can pick it up running. I think what they're asking from Alex is not to lose the game."Coach Jim Harbaugh, however, said he places his quarterback in rarefied air among current NFL players."I think people who know football and understand the game appreciate Alex Smith," Harbaugh said. "He's a very talented quarterback. He's every bit the elite quarterback as there is playing in the game right now."Unlike the Giants, the 49ers this week were gracious in speaking about the quarterback they will face Sunday."I think he (Manning) ranks at the top," 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "He's been playing well, getting the right guys the ball, making the right choices with the ball. Our coaches do a great job of game-planning and having us in the right position to make the right plays, so we'll prepared for it."Both teams also better be prepared for some late-game intrigue, too. Manning has led the Giants to the go-ahead points in the fourth quarter of each of their last four victories.Manning ranks first in the NFL with a passer rating of 121.7 in the fourth quarter with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Smith is third with a 106.7 rating in the fourth quarter. Other matchups worth watching
49ers Joe Staley (74) vs. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90): Pierre-Paul has 9.5 sacks for the team that sacks the quarterback with more frequency than any other team in the league. Pierre-Paul will move around to all the different positions on the defensive line, as the Giants like to exploit mismatches. So the Staley vs. Pierre-Paul matchup is really just a jumping off point for matchups that will occur across the line.
"He's one of those guys who goes to the ball and has great lateral movement and he makes plays across the line of scrimmage," Staley said. "He gets separation and chases down the quarterback if he gets out of the pocket. Their whole defensive line is built like that. They're built to come after the quarterback and we have to do a real good job of finishing on pass protection and making sure we give that extra effort so our guys don't slip off late."
This matchup isn't just about pass protection. It's even more important that the 49ers offensive line is physical against the Giants defensive front and move them around to create holes for running back Frank Gore, who ranks fifth in the NFL with 782 rushing yards. Gore has a franchise-best streak of five consecutive 100-yard rushing games.49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers (22) vs. Giants receiver Victor Cruz (80): As a division rival of the Giants while with the Washington Redskins, Rogers remembers watching the undrafted rookie tear it up during the 2010 exhibition season with 15 catches for 297 yards and four touchdowns.
"This year he's doing the same thing he did in the preseason when he was the highlight of New York last year," Rogers said. "He's having a real good season."
With wideouts Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and Mario Manningham (knee) questionable for the game, Manning will look for Cruz, who lines up in the slot on third downs. Cruz has 34 receptions for a team-leading 588 yards and four touchdowns. Rogers covers the slot receiver. He is having an exceptional season for the 49ers with three interceptions and nine passes broken up. Rogers' former team, the Redskins, rarely even challenged him last week.

Bills sign two former 49ers

Bills sign two former 49ers

The Buffalo Bills have signed two 49ers free agents within the past two days.

After signing wide receiver Rod Streater on Wednesday, the Bills announced the signing of linebacker Gerald Hodges on Thursday.

The 49ers acquired Hodges in a 2015 trade with the Minnesota Vikings for center Nick Easton and a sixth-round draft pick. Hodges started 12 games last season and ranked second on the team with 92 tackles.

Hodges left the 49ers shorthanded for a late-season game against the Atlanta Falcons when he violated team rules. Then-coach Chip Kelly did not disclose the nature of Hodges infraction. Hodges offered no explanation or apology.

The 49ers entered the game against the high-powered Falcons with just two healthy inside linebackers due to Hodges’ deactivation. Starter Nick Bellore sustained an elbow injury on the third play of the game, and the 49ers were forced to use safeties Antoine Bethea and Vinnie Sunseri, and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks at various points of the game.

The 49ers showed no interest in re-signing Hodges as a free agent.

Streater, a five-year NFL veteran, saw action in all 16 games last season after being acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in September. He caught 18 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.

Harbaugh takes blame for 'premature celebration' during 2011 incident

Harbaugh takes blame for 'premature celebration' during 2011 incident

It was Jim Harbaugh's first season as head coach of the 49ers.

The 4-1 49ers were in Detroit and scored 10 points in the final 5:29 to beat the Lions 25-19.

An excited Harbaugh got a little too agressive during his postgame handshake with Lions coach Jim Schwartz. The two had words for each other and had to be separated.

Six years later, Harbaugh took the blame for what happened and said that he and Schwartz have patched things up.

"I went in too hard on that, too aggressive on the handshake. I've since changed that. Not doing that anymore. Can't blame him. I went in too hard. And you respect him for taking exception. We've talked, and we're good. We're back to friends. There is a protocol in a postgame handshake. I've been there as the winner. I've been there as loser. You just, 'Hey, nice game,' then go celebrate. Premature celebration there, in the wrong," Harbaugh said Tuesday on Barstool Sports' Pardon My Take podcast.

Harbaugh sounds like he's learned his lesson from that incident with Schwartz.

"The postgame handshake isn't the place for anything. If you're bitter, than change the I to an E. Don't get bitter, get better. Nothing's really changing at the postgame handshake. Just professionally shake hands and go on your way," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh moved on from the 49ers to coach the Michigan Wolverines. Schwartz coached the Lions through the 2013 season and currently serves as the defensive coordinator for the Eagles.