The Giants are coming off an impressive road win over the Patriots, but this Sunday’s matchup with the upstart 49ers may actually be the tougher challenge.
Sure, the Patriots have all-world quarterback Tom Brady, but what San Francisco brings may be more detrimental to Big Blue’s defense — a power running game.
Frank Gore is perhaps the most talented of the Niners’ skill position players and the offense has been molded around him. The seven-year vet has gashed opponents this season and has rewarded rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh’s faith with a superb season (782 yards, 4.9 yards per carry and five touchdowns).
“You know they’re going run. Gore has [a franchise-record] five-straight games with 100 yards and they have good receivers and a tight end who’s very rare,” Coughlin said. “Plus, they have three first-rounders on the offensive line … they have good talent.”
Coughlin’s concerns for stopping Gore are well-founded — the Giants are allowing 127.1 yards a game and 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.
But the Niners aren’t 7-1 solely based on offense. Coughlin was quick to note how physical they play defense and how sound their special teams are.
“They’re a very good football team that has improved their club by the moves in the off-season. They’re third in kickoff returns, thanks to Ted Ginn, and lead the league in net punting. They’re No. 1 against the rush, have 19 takeaways (plus-12) and they’re sixth in the league in rushing yards per game,” said Coughlin. “They do an outstanding job with multiple personnel and play a certain way every week.”
Coughlin then marveled at how similar both clubs are when it comes to back-against-the-wall situations.
“They’ve showed resiliency in their wins,” he said, noting large road comebacks at Detroit and Philadelphia. “They’ve been tested and have shown a lot. They’re 7-1 and deservedly so.”
While he didn’t give much detail on what it’ll be like to face Harbaugh the coach instead of Harbaugh as a player (“You would have to check with somebody else, I don’t know”), Coughlin did allow that the fiery Harbaugh “has changed their style, attitude, demeanor and work ethic.” He added the Niners’ style is very similar to Harbaugh’s Stanford teams that pounded opponents into submission on both sides of the ball.
“They’re technically very sound and have outstanding personnel,” Coughlin said, looking as intense as he’s ever looked at his weekly press conference. “Overall, they are a powerful and sound team.”
Big Blue notes
» The Giants’ injury list for Wednesday included cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot), offensive tackle Stacy Andrews (back), center David Baas (knee), running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), fullback Henry Hynoski (neck), wideout Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee). Notable guys not on the list include defensive end Justin Tuck, linebacker Michael Boley, wideout Ramses Barden and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. All the above players practiced except for Bradshaw, although Coughlin said the running back “is better than he was last week. He is walking around and if he keeps getting better, we will see [about playing Sunday].”
» Offensive lineman Adam Koets was waived. Koets could never get back onto the field after suffering a torn ACL late last season in Seattle. He began the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and the Giants had until this week to either activate him, release him or put him on injured reserve (with pay). Big Blue also cut practice squad fullback Alex Daniels and filled his spot with defensive end Craig Marshall.
» Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against New England (12 tackles, six solo, and an interception). This was Kiwanuka’s second Player of the Week award. He was honored in Week 8 in 2008 after he had 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, four quarterback hits and five tackles in a victory at Pittsburgh. Kiwanuka started that game at right defensive end, so he has now won a Player of the Week award at both end and linebacker. Kiwanuka is the first Giant to be named Defensive Player of the Week since Michael Boley (Week 11, ’09).
» Offensively, the Giants have had two Offensive Player of the Week honorees this season: Manning (Week 3 vs. Philadelphia) and Ahmad Bradshaw (Week 6 vs. Buffalo).
» Coughlin wouldn’t delve into the Penn State scandal, but did praise
longtime head coach Joe Paterno for his illustrious career: “He has had a
fabulous career. I have admired him for a long, long time. I was a
player on a [Syracuse] team the first year he became a head coach. I
have admired him for a long time. … His impact on the game is very rare — the
way he has impacted the game over the years.”
» Some mid-season notes to chew on:
— The Giants are nothing but consistent mid-season winners under Coughlin, as they are 6-2 for the fifth time in his eight seasons. They were 5-3 twice and 7-1 in 2008 at midseason. The Giants are a combined 47-17 (.734) in the first eight games since Coughlin arrived in 2004.
— The Giants are ranked 11th in the NFL on offense and 19th on defense. Last year at this time, they were second and first, respectively.
— They also can’t generate anything on the ground, as they’re averaging just 88.8 yards a game (29th in the league) and 3.3 yards per carry (30th). Last year after eight games, those numbers were 151.9 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry.
— Overall, outside of Manning’s brilliance, the offense has dipped in production. The Giants averaged 27.0 points per game at midseason last year and are averaging 24.6 now. First downs per game (20.5 from 22.9), time of possession (29:42 from 34:32, a product of the struggling rushing attack) and third-down conversion percentage (34.0 from 37.3) are all down. Total yards per game are 371.6, a drop from a Coughlin-era high of 401.0 at this time in 2010.
— Some defensive numbers are down as well, as the Giants are allowing 23.0 points a game, three more than last year. Opponent first downs a game have jumped (13.8 to 20.3), third down conversion percentage (29.1 to 34.5), passing yards per game (169.8 to 238.5) and opposing completion percentage (54.6 to 59.8).
— It’s almost amazing New York is off to such a great start because of the drops in offensive and defensive efficiency, but that can mostly be credited to a couple important factors: Manning, the turnover differential (plus-seven in ’11, minus-three in ’10), sacks (league-leading 28 in ’11, 24 in ’10) and the number of late-game comebacks (five).
— Speaking of close games, the Giants have won their last three games by three, three and four points. This is the first time they have won three consecutive games by four or fewer points since Nov. 21 to Dec. 4, 1994, when they defeated the Houston Oilers (13-10), Redskins (21-19) and Browns (16-13), all on the road.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.