By Curt Macysyn
The New York Giants (3-6) already seem like they are playing out the string, even though there are seven games left in the 2014 NFL season. With their latest four game losing streak, Big Blue conceded control of the NFC East to both the Eagles and Cowboys, and the chance of a wild card berth seems remote. This week’s opponent, the San Francisco 49ers (5-4), escaped New Orleans last weekend with a win in overtime against the disappointing Saints.
Despite the emergence of the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco still believes that they are a viable playoff contender in the tough NFC West division. But the 49ers can ill-afford a loss at this point in the season, and now must do so without their best defensive player, Patrick Willis, who was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday.
New York Giants
The Giants placed their 12th player on injured reserve this week, after running back Michael Cox fractured his leg against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Outside of the quantity of players on injured reserve, another problem for the G-men is that the vast majority of the players are from skill positions. In fact, 10 of 12 players who populate the injured reserve list play a skill position, and one other, Jon Beason, was the starting middle linebacker.
While injuries are partly to blame for the team’s demise, the injuries also exposed a weak roster, with very few NFL-ready substitutes. One move in the right direction was the team’s acquisition of running back Orleans Darkwa from the Miami Dolphins. For as desperate as New York is for NFL-ready players, the team continues to stock its practice squad with “projects.” With both Peyton Hillis (concussion) and Michael Cox (broken leg) out, Darkwa will likely be active for the G-men on Sunday.
The rushing attack should be buoyed by the return of Rashad Jennings from a knee injury after a four-game absence. Jennings has 396 yards rushing on the season with a 4.4 yards per carry average. Rookie Andre Williams struggled in Jenning’s absence, as he averages less than three yards per carry on the season. “[Jennings] did a good job again, practiced, took a lot of turns. Did pretty well,” according to head coach Tom Coughlin.
The linebacking position is again dinged up with Jacquian Williams sidelined with a concussion. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell indicated that Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger would see action in the base defense, and also look for the Giants to employ a three safety set with Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps.
Even if defensive end Damontre Moore can play on Sunday, he has been the forgotten man on the Giants’ defense. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Moore played only three defensive snaps on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Defensive tackles Markus Kuhn and Mike Patterson picked up the slack for Cullen Jenkins against Seattle with 22 and 29 snaps respectively against the Seahawks. Kuhn was give a (-1.8) grade and Patterson (-2.0) grade by Pro Football Focus in game where the overall defensive grade was (-27.3).
San Francisco 49ers
Most of the injuries for the 49ers are on the defensive side of the ball. From an offensive standpoint, running back Frank Gore (hip) would be crazy not to play against the Giants’ porous rush defense, which is ranked dead last in the NFL. Gore was a full participant at practice after being limited early in the week. Wide receiver Bruce Ellington was unable to practice this week with an ankle injury, but then again he has just five catches on the season.
At linebacker, the 49ers placed Patrick Willis (toe) on injured reserve, ending his season. Willis may be the best defensive player on the 49ers’ roster, but rookie Chris Borland has stepped in for Willis and played well, with 35 tackles in the past two games. “Inside linebacker Chris Borland (shoulder) shed the non-contact jersey he wore in practice Wednesday. Borland had three shoulder surgeries early in his college career – two on his left shoulder — but said his ailment isn’t connected to his past issues. He said he wore a non-contact jersey as a precaution,” according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
“[Defensive coordinator Vic] Fangio said rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch will likely make his second career start with Dan Skuta still hobbled with an ankle injury,” Branch reported on Thursday. The 49ers will also get Aldon Smith back from his nine-game suspension, but Smith will not start and will only spell Lynch and Ahmad Brooks.
Perhaps a bigger concern for the 49ers is their pass coverage. It appears that cornerback Tramaine Brock and first-round draft pick Jimmie Ward will both miss the game. “With Ward and Brock likely out, Perrish Cox will probably cover the slot in the nickel defense and rookie Dontae Johnson will assume Cox’s spot on the outside,” Branch wrote on Thursday.
“With nose tackle Ian Williams (fractured fibula) out indefinitely, Quinton Dial will likely assume his spot Sunday. It’s possible Glen Dorsey (biceps), who is on injured reserve with the designation to return, could be placed on the 53-man roster this week,” Branch indicated this week.
NEW YORK GIANTS
RB Rashad Jennings (Knee)
S Nat Behre (Ankle)
TE Daniel Fells (Neck)
DE Mathias Kiwanuka (Knee)
DE Damontre Moore (Shoulder)
RB Peyton Hillis (Concussion)
DT Cullen Jenkins (Calf)
LB Jacquian Williams (Concussion)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
LB Chris Borland (Shoulder)
RB Frank Gore (Hip)
DE Ray McDonald (Knee)
LB Aldon Smith (Nine game suspension)
DE Justin Smith (No Injury)
WR Bruce Ellington (Ankle)
LB Dan Skuta (Ankle)
CB Trumaine Brock (Hamstring)
S Jimmie Ward (Foot)
DT Ian Williams (Fibula)
For more Giants news and updates, visit Giants Central.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.