49ers-Giants: Matchups to watch

49ers-Giants: Matchups to watch
November 12, 2011, 4:55 pm
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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.

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