Giants vs. 49ers: 3 things to watch

Hakeem Nicks.
JEFF ZELEVANSKY/GETTY IMAGES

The Giants travel to the west coast for the first time this year to face the team they beat in the NFC Championship game last January. The 4-1 Niners will present quite a challenge again this year.

What to watch for …

1. Will Hakeem Nicks finally play?

Wideout Hakeem Nicks hasn’t played in almost a month due to knee and foot ailments. The banged-up receiver actually participated in the jog-through and individual portions of practice on Thursday, which is progress considering he hasn’t practiced in over a week. He traveled with the team to San Francisco, so that is another good sign. Still, Nicks, who would definitely alleviate the pressure off of sidekick Victor Cruz, is listed as questionable. Big Blue will need the extra help considering the 49ers possess the second-best defense in the league.

2. Will the Giants’ running game complement Manning? 
 
The Giants’ rushing attack has been unimpressive for the better part of two seasons — last week’s 243-yard rushing day aside. Ahmad Bradshaw tallied an even 200 of those yards on 30 carries, but it’s highly doubtful he’ll duplicate that feat against a Niners’ front seven that is beastly against opposing rushing attacks. San Francisco’s defense is among the league’s best, allowing only 81.4 yards per game. The Giants haven’t had any success the last two times they played at Candlestick, as they were held to 93 yards in a regular-season game loss on Nov. 13, and then only 85 yards in their title game. Those two games also featured Brandon Jacobs, who is now a 49er. And with Bradshaw’s backup Andre Brown likely out with a concussion, it may all be up to Bradshaw. It’s unlikely Big Blue wants to throw rookie David Wilson to the proverbial wolves.
 
3. Whose pass rush will disrupt the quarterback the most? 

The Giants have had an anemic pass rush, particularly its big three rushers of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. That usually terrifying trio has only 2.5 sacks combined through the first five games. That won’t cut it against a suddenly potent Niners’ passing attack, led by the rejuvenated Alex Smith. His counterpart, Eli Manning, has been sacked only four times this year — a far cry from the six he suffered in last season’s NFC Championship game — but will face a San Francisco pass rush that features a Pro Bowler at every level, including defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebackers Aldon Smith (4.5 sacks), NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.

Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.


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