The Giants head into Sunday’s primetime tilt with the San Francisco 49ers (8:30 p.m., NBC) on a two-game winning streak.
And while this may seem like a break for Big Blue, following tough matchups that featured a once-healthy Dallas Cowboys team, the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons, and a solid Buffalo Bills squad in three of the last four weeks, San Francisco cannot be taken lightly.
If not for two historic late-game meltdowns, the Giants (2-2) could be unbeaten, so they know how fragile the line is between winning and losing. Look for Big Blue to put forth its best and most complete effort, Sunday night, as they look to take early control in the NFC East.
Metro takes a look at key storylines to watch for under the lights.
What to watch for:
1. No overlooking the weak.
Sure, the 49ers (1-3) are wounded and a mess, but that doesn’t mean Big Blue can take them lightly. No matter what kind of disarray the once-proud San Francisco franchise is in, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has implored his squad to not look past this game in anticipation for their next contest – a Monday nighter in Philadelphia.
“I don’t believe in buying any of that [taking a team lightly]. If you look at the Green Bay tape, they’re there twice [in touchdown range that would’ve changed the complexion of the game]. They’re right at the goal line and they misfire and they have a ball that should have been caught in the end zone. They played very well in that game … A play here or a play there and they are in position at home to win, so you do have to be aware of those things. They’re 1-3 and they’re desperate to win. And we’re desperate to win.”
2. Unsung heroes keeping the defense together.
Coughlin just raves about the defense coming together during the last two wins. He’s especially proud of a unit that is maximizing his “all hands on deck” mantra to the fullest. Not only are the stars like linebacker Devon Kennard and cornerback Prince Amukamara playing well, but unlikely pillars like fullback Nikita Whitlock and defensive end Kerry Wynn have been impact players, too. The former is one “tough hombre,” according to Coughlin, since he’s the starting fullback and a late-game pass-rush specialist who has been disruptive during his moments at defensive tackle. The latter has leaped over veterans like George Selvie and Damontre Moore on the depth chart due to his staunch run support and high grades in the defensive meeting room. Coughlin has taken notice of the energy boost that Wynn gives the defensive line.
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“Kerry Wynn works hard and makes plays. He has a high motor. He is very consistent.”
3. Next man up!
Of all of Coughlin’s credos, this one is perhaps his favorite. It’ll be put to the test on Sunday, particularly on defense, against a Niners offense that is itching to get on track. San Francisco is only averaging 289 yards per game, but with a talented backfield featuring running back Carlos Hyde and athletic quarterback Colin Kaepernick, they’re due for a big game – especially if the Big Blue’s backups aren’t efficient and executing. The Giants will likely be without star linebacker Devon Kennard, defensive lineman Robert Ayers Jr., or key reserve linebacker Jonathan Casillas, which means they’ll need their backups to step up and play well. Linebackers Mark Herzlich, Uani’ Unga, and Jasper Brinkley will be called upon to pick up the slack for Kennard, while Wynn, Selvie, and Moore will be expected to step up for Ayers. How well the front seven can hold the fort against San Fran’s power running attack -- and not let the Niners’ read-option attack break containment – could go a long way into determining the team’s overall success.