The Giants enter Sunday’s NFC Championship game with more than just the 49ers to worry about.
Besides facing an aggressive, smashmouth football team, New York has to worry about the elements going against them.
Sunday’s forecast for San Francisco has temperatures in the mid-50s with a chance of showers. And even if it doesn’t rain on game day, reports are that the scattered showers throughout the week could make Candlestick Park a treacherous place for quarterbacks and receivers.
Wideout Victor Cruz said he’s plugged into the weather forecast, just like he did in Green Bay last week when he added local weather apps to his cell phone. Cruz noted that while he obviously has no control over the weather he can still take precautions in case things get ugly.
“It’s grass, and a throwback stadium, so it naturally has that give to it. The grass is pretty thick and you tend to slide and slip a little bit,” Cruz said. “If it rains, it will definitely be a challenge for us, [but] it’s nothing that we haven’t faced before. Whatever challenges come our way we’ll have to just take them head on.”
Head coach Tom Coughlin wasn’t particularly concerned about playing in wet conditions. Coughlin acknowledged weather can have some effects (“If we have to put the ball in a bucket of water a couple times this week, we will do that”), but otherwise Big Blue will have their focus solely on the Niners.
“I have glanced at it, but it is what it is,” Coughlin said of weather. “Once we are in the game, if it becomes a factor, then we would have to make adjustments.”
Should it turn into a ground-oriented game, Coughlin insisted the Giants have the horsepower to hang with the 49ers. He noted the running game has improved each week and he has faith in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.
“We are about balance. We rushed the ball 29 times when we were out there and we did win time of possession,” Coughlin said, recalling the Packers game. “We did have 70 snaps to their 52. We did all the things that you want to do.”
Coughlin also noted the trouble with preparing for the Niners is that they showed they can win games in a multitude of ways. They showed they can win a shootout, like last Saturday’s win over the Saints, or a close-to-the-vest, field-position game. Last week, Niners quarterback Alex Smith torched the Saints’ secondary (24-of-42 for 299 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a key 28-yard rushing touchdown) so Coughlin made it clear that the offense won’t be a one-man goring.
“Even though their numbers are not great offensively for a 16-game season, the way they play, you have to understand they do an outstanding job complementing their defense and special teams,” Coughlin said. “They are a team that has been very steady and have a philosophy in how they play and they have not wavered from it. But the thing that occurred [in the Saints game], was when they needed to make the plays [through the air] and the score went back and forth in the last four minutes of the game, they certainly showed that they can bring the ball down the field.”
Should the weather heavily factor in, it would also put a premium on field position and the kicking game. Both of San Francisco’s special team specialists, kicker David Akers and punter Andy Lee, set records this season and are arguably the best 1-2 duo in the league. Their return game is also in the top 10, led by wideout/return specialist Ted Ginn.
“The thing that was most impressive to me is they led the league in field position, where they took the ball over at the 33.5-yard line and that is a nice start for anybody,” Coughlin said. “They also led the NFL in the opponent’s drives, making them start at the 24.3-yard line.”
Statistics and weather aside, defensive end Justin Tuck said it simply comes down to who wants it more and who’s tougher.
“You just have to play,” Tuck said. “I just like playing football — regardless of snow, sleet, sun, whatever. It doesn’t really stop what we want and have to do. … In the end it just comes down to what we do and what we control.”
Big Blue notes
»Punter Steve Weatherford can sure pick a winner. This will be the veteran’s third-consecutive trip — and fourth overall — to a conference title game. He played for the Jets in the last two AFC Championship games and for New Orleans in 2006. While he’s managed to hitch onto winning programs, Weatherford is still looking for that elusive Super Bowl appearance, as his teams are 0-3 in the penultimate game.
Weatherford said while he felt “almost snake-bitten” and the experiences ended up being “a big tease” he feels confident this is the breakthrough appearance: “I’ve never felt more confident that I’m going to win it all. Last year [on the Jets] we felt really good, we were playing really good football, but I never really felt like I could feel like I feel right now. I don’t feel like we’re invincible, but I feel like we’re the only people that can stop us. Unless we shoot ourselves in the foot, I don’t think there’s a team in the NFL that can beat us.”
»Tuck said he’s not worrying about who did any praying or who the Niners intend on featuring on offense. Ultimately, Tuck said it comes down to how Big Blue executes: “We don’t worry about anybody. It’s all about what we do. Will we have something in store to kind of slow him [Davis] down? Sure we will. But at the end of the day, we’re not going to put too much emphasis into what they do, as long as we do what we do.”
»Hakeem Nicks said his unusually-large, 4X hands will have no problem catching passes in the rain or inclement weather: “I’m a hands catcher. I like to snatch the ball out the air, so it won’t bother me. I think it’s just paying attention to details [and] looking the ball all the way in because the ball could be a little wet. But you know, I think it’s just a matter of concentration.”
Nicks did allow that route-running could be an issue for some, but added it’ll be harder for the defensive backs than the wideouts: “You’ve got to be more detailed in your route coming in and out of your cut. It’s just a matter of having your nose over your toes in your route and not leaning back in your route. And you might have to switch up your cleats a little bit and get a little bit longer spikes in your cleats to catch you a little bit. … I feel like it’s always to the receivers’ advantage [playing in mud] because we know where we’re going on a route. DBs are just guessing or playing their coverage.”
»Safety Antrel Rolle naturally had a differing view of Nicks’s opinion. Rolle said his defensive back brethren are every bit as sure-footed as the wideouts: “It’s not going to affect us much. We just have to react to it [and] make sure to have the proper equipment. Maybe get some studded cleats that can grip the ground a little bit harder. You just play the game.”
When discussing the renaissance of Niners dual-threat quarterback Alex Smith, Rolle didn’t sound too impressed. Afterall, they already vanquished arguably the best in the game in Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “We’re going to play our game. We faced a guy, Aaron Rodgers, last week that can run just as well as Alex Smith. I played against him [Smith] twice a year when I was in Arizona so [I’m] very aware of his capabilities. He is a great athlete as far as running the ball and throwing the ball. With that being said, we’re going to rally to it [and] I can promise you one thing, he won’t run the ball too much.”
When the topic of Super Bowl experience came up, Rolle said he’s not even thinking of Indianapolis yet and is too focused on San Francisco: “I’m not trying to cut you short,” he said when a reporter brought up the big game. “But we’re not answering questions about the Super Bowl right now. I’ll answer all of the questions you want about San Francisco. But questions about the Super Bowl I’m not going to answer.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.