Last week, the Giants showed everyone that the only thing you need to beat the 49ers’ physical, intimidating, opportunistic team is to have a physical, intimidating, opportunistic team of your own with a better quarterback. Here’s some specifics on what the Seahawks can learn from New York’s road victory so that they can pull off the same feat tonight:
1) Pressure Alex Smith.
Through most of his career Smith has been best known for his almost preternatural ability to throw back-breaking interceptions at the drop of a hat. Under the tutelage of Harbaugh the Angrier, Smith has become a reasonably competent game manager who is mainly asked to throw the ball in order to give San Francisco’s running backs a rest between carries, but his effectiveness is directly proportional to how comfortable he feels in the pocket. Keep him clean and upright, and he’ll happily feed the ball to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree all day long, but squeeze his protection and knock him around a bit and out will pop the Smith of old.
All told, the Giants either hit or sacked Smith on 34.89% of his dropbacks, and he rewarded them with three gift-wrapped interceptions. In each case, Smith panicked and threw toward the first red jersey he could see because New York’s pass rush was breathing down his neck. The 49ers have a strong offensive line, but if Bradley and Carroll can put together some blitzes and stunts to give Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, and Jason Jones a clear shot (starting LT Joe Staley is questionable for the game), this could turn into a fun night out for the secondary.
2) San Francisco’s pass coverage is vulnerable.
The 49ers’ first six opponents this season have had a great deal of success on passes thrown to the left side of the field. Those teams have completed 54.55% of their passes thrown to the deep left, which is pretty significant when you compare it to the completion percentages for the deep middle (16.67%) and deep right (33.33%). You know what that means — more opportunities for long bombs to Sidney Rice and Golden Tate.
Things get even better in the short left, where the 49ers have allowed a 69.84% completion rate. Even Mark Sanchez, who connected on an abysmal 6-of-22 (27.27%) on passes everywhere else on the field in the Jets’ week 4 loss to the 49ers, managed to complete 7-of-10 (70%) to the short left. Granted, the 49ers aren’t exactly rock solid in the short middle (63.64%) or short right (57.14%) either, but the short left is the softest spot in their coverage.
3) The offense needs to produce, but shouldn’t have to score a ton of points.
What the lopsided final score of the Giants-49ers game doesn’t tell you is that 13 of those points were scored after the defense’s interceptions set up Eli Manning with great field position. Without those three short drives, the Giants would have only scored one touchdown and two field goals, but that still would’ve been enough to beat San Francisco even if David Akers hadn’t missed two field goals.
Of the 49ers’ 12 drives in the game, the Giants’ defense stopped them nine times — four punts (two on three & outs), three interceptions, and two failed fourth down conversions in the second half — and limited them to field goal attempts on the remaining three possessions. That level of performance on defense gives your offense the luxury of being able to move down the field without being forced to take unnecessary risks with the ball while they try to mount a desperate late-game comeback. Of course, Russell Wilson seems to have a knack for fourth quarter heroics, but it’d be far easier on everyone’s nerves if the Seahawks didn’t put themselves in that position in the first place.