‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.
Tom Coughlin’s mantra has always been “run the ball, stop the run.”
Never will it be so true come Sunday, when the Giants face the 7-1 San Francisco 49ers.
Run the ball? Absolutely. And it may take all three healthy backs — Brandon Jacobs, DJ Ware, and Da’Rel Scott, to get that job done against a defense that ranks as the league’s tops against the run.
Why not just throw it? Because the Niners rank second in turnover differential at plus-12, which includes 10 interceptions. Let Eli Manning throw off his back foot a couple of times out there and certainly a guy like Carlos Rogers or Tramaine Brock is liable to latch onto one and take it to the house, as Rogers did against Tampa Bay four games ago when he brought it back 31 yards for a touchdown.
So the Giants will need a strong running game in this one to keep a pass rush headed by Aldon Smith’s and Justin Smith’s combined 11 sacks honest. Oh, and perhaps to keep the 49ers’ dangerous running back Frank Gore off the field.
And to do that, they’ll have to go into the teeth of the 49ers’ strength, their run defense.
Ah, but there’s a problem. This fellow named Patrick Willis stands in the middle of that run defense, blessed with sideline-to-sideline speed and a physicality that makes him a monster in the middle.
“You take care of that defensive line, and all of a sudden you’ve got this great linebacker running around making a lot of tackles,” Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. “It’s such a different approach than some of the people we’ve faced. He’s a tremendous player, and he’s got such confidence in his speed that he’s always slow in his initial reaction because he knows he can catch up to anything. So with misdirections, it’s hard to fool him.”
Then there’s the other side of the ball. Forget about Alex Smith’s No. 6 passer rating, a notch behind Manning. The 49ers run the ball with Frank Gore, first and foremost. It’s a throwback, run-first offense, led by a throwback tailback.
“They’re a powerful team,” Mathias Kiwanuka said. “They’re gonna run it, and we have to stand up and be accountable. Lots of times, speed backs make one cut, and power backs run straight down-hill. When you’ve got a guy who’s not afraid of contact and can make that cut, too, you’ve got to be prepared for him.”
“How hard is it to stop Frank Gore?” DE Justin Tuck asked almost rhetorically. “No one has really stopped him. The tape we watched, the best team was Dallas, and that’s a 3-4 defense. We’re different. We have a huge challenge slowing him down.”
Not many have done that, as Gore already has 782 yards and five touchdowns, as well as a very healthy 4.9 yards per carry average.
So, in essence, the Giants are going to need a better balance on offense than they had in last week’s heart-stopper against the Patriots. That means running the ball more against the best run defense in the league. And it certainly would be nice for a Giants’ struggling run defense that gives up 127.1 yards per game to hold the eminent Mr. Gore to his first sub 100-yard performance in six games and make the overachieving Smith beat them in the air.
If they can do all that, those many folks who fear a second-half collapse might just be able to give those thoughts a rest.
At least for now.