The San Francisco 49ers lost their only game of the year to the Minnesota Vikings in Week three; a sound 24-13 beating. So, as the 49ers game looms as one of the big early tests for the New York Giants, we decided to go back and see if we can learn anything about attacking the Niners from Christian Ponder and the Vikings.
While we thought the game reviews would yield simple revelations (e.g. "The Vikings were able to control the 49ers’ X by doing Y"), what we found is that the general feeling from those who watched the game was that the Vikings outplayed the Niners in almost every facet of the game, doing the little things San Francisco usually does so well, forcing Alex Smith into the kinds of mistakes he usually doesn't make, and preventing the mistakes the Niners defense usually forces.
But we did find some great tape review by Mike Vorkunov over at NJ.com, who looked at the game as a precursor to the Niners shellacking of the New York Jets. We'll take a look at what Vorkunov saw on tape, pair it with what Hazem wrote about in this week's game preview, and see if we can find some keys to victory.
Attack the secondary, take the Niners linebackers off the field and get aggressive with the passing attack.
The Giants would love to have Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz working the defensive backs, but Vornukov highlights another weapon the Giants should utilize:
The Niners struggle against opposing tight ends. Small sample size: Kyle Rudolph caught five passes for 36 yards and two touchdowns. Bigger sample size: He became the third straight starting tight end to score against San Francisco.
If Martellus Bennett is healthy, his ability to get behind the linebackers on play action and to work favorable match ups in the nickel might be huge. It sounds like he'll be out there, but he limped around on that knee all game last week so we'll have to wait and see.
Force Alex Smith to throw the ball to the sidelines and to the outside.
Smith has turned into an incredible game manager, but fell back into bad old habits against the Vikings. Vornukov on Smith's performance:
The stat line looks adequate for the Niners' QB…But there were deeper fissures. He lost a fumble [in addition to a huge 4th quarter interception] and was responsible for two sacks — one of which came as he refused to throw the ball away with an oncoming Chad Greenway in his line of vision. Smith also missed Randy Moss for what could have been a touchdown pass or at least gotten the Niners near the goal line.
When Smith has a running game and short-to-medium options over the middle of the field, the 49ers offensive machine can be deadly. The Giants will need to shut down the easy options and force Smith to have to make some plays on the outside and down the field (Gore had only 12 carries for 63 yards in the Vikings game), if they want to similarly derail Smith and his offense.
Double tight end Vernon Davis consistently.
Vorkunov saw pretty much what we all saw in last year's NFC Championship game:
One of the handful best tight ends in the league, Davis is also the most valuable piece of San Francisco's passing game. He had five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota. His 20-yard catch set up his one yard TD. Along with Michael Crabtree, Davis had the most targets of any Niner with eight.
Sure, Crabtree is a threat, Gore is perhaps our biggest worry, and in Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams the 49ers have plenty of secondary options…but Davis is Smith's favorite target and a matchup nightmare. I'll roll the dice putting Prince Amukamara on an island with Crabtree before I put anyone, especially Chase Blackburn or Mathias Kiwanuka, one-on-one with Davis.
One last note: much of the post game on the Vikings victory gave a ton of credit to Christian Ponder, roundly crediting him with outplaying Alex Smith, making plays when he had to and avoiding the big mistake. But it seems as if Ponder's biggest accomplishment was escaping a 49ers pass rush that was as deadly as ever, but failed to get home due to Ponder's ability to roll out, extend plays and take off when necessary (23 yard touchdown run in the second quarter being one of the biggest plays of the game).
Eli Manning sure doesn't have the wheels of a Christian Ponder and won't be running for a 23-yard touchdown anytime soon, but the veteran will have to use his above-average ability to slide around the pocket, buy just enough time, and make quality throws while absorbing a hit. My point: the Vikings didn't neutralize the Niners pass rush, Ponder just overcame it.
Eli will have to do the same.
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