If the field becomes problematic, one team will handle it better than the other. That’s usually the way it goes.
The question to be determined is which team? The elements could become a more critical factor in the outcome than any Eli Manning-Alex Smith comparison.
Another thing to consider. The 49ers are a more grind-it-out type of team, fast track or mud. The Giants are more of a big play team thanks to Eli Manning’s arm and the ability of receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
• The team that can establish an effective running game will win this contest.
There’s nothing newsy about that statement as it has been a fact of playoff life ever since the game was invented.
Even in a season where the aerial blitz has dominated like never before, the running game could prove decisive at The Stick, especially if it’s a muddy track.
On paper, the 49ers would seem to have the edge as Frank Gore is a more productive back than the Giants’ tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Back in their November game, though, Gore was a non-factor and still the 49ers won.
In that game Gore was operating on a sore knee and was held to zero yards on six carries.
Call me crazy but I predict Gore will get the ball more than six times on Sunday and that he will actually gain positive yards. How many is the question.
If the 49ers have the lead you can take it to the bank that they will attempt to pound it on the ground with Gore and go with the quick tosses from Smith. That’s 49ers football.
Against the Saints, even with that wild, fourth-quarter shootout, Gore ran the ball 13 times and cranked out 89 yards for a healthy 6.8 yard average.
San Fran would settle for that average gain in a heartbeat.
The Giants, meanwhile, ran up the yards (172) in their first playoff win against a dispirited Atlanta squad. Last week against the Packers they rushed for just 95 yards with Bradshaw receiving the most touches as he had 12 carries for 63 yards.
Both the Giants and the 49ers defences, meanwhile, are adept at stopping the run.
The Saints believed they could grind out some yards to keep the rush off Drew Brees but the 49ers held them to 37 yards on 14 carries for a 2.6 yard average.
If the Giants defence can once again stop Gore in his tracks, then it’s big advantage New York.
• I still wince every time I see the replay of 49ers safety Donte Whitner laying out the Saints’ Pierre Thomas. I can’t remember a one-on-one tackle that was so decisive and such a turning point, even though it was early in the opening quarter.
Whitner was thought of as a quality player prior to the play but now he has become the stuff of legends and it will be interesting to see what effect the attention has on him in this game. More importantly, will the hit have any effect on the Giants’ receivers?
It is interesting to read the comments from former 49ers.
“It brought me out of my chair, and it also brought back memories,” Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott told reporters. “(Whitner) set the tone, and as my son said, ‘Down goes Frazier!’ Now the Giants backs and receivers will be looking for those guys (in the secondary). Bring it if you want it, as Mr. D (owner Eddie DeBartolo) used to say.”
“That was the signature play of the game,” added Roger Craig, the former 49ers running back. “I saw flashes of Ronnie.”
It will be interesting to see if the officials give Whitner any extra attention.
• Hakeem Nicks has become Eli Manning’s favourite target in the post-season as the wide receiver has a combined 13 receptions for 280 yards and four touchdowns in games against Atlanta and Green Bay.
He hasn’t let the Falcons or Packers defences hinder him and doesn’t expect any foul San Francisco weather to limit what he can do.
Nicks considers himself a pretty good ‘mudder’ and with rain and a slick field a looming possibility, the receivers will need all the traction they can get. Nicks maintained that success in wet conditions is a matter of concentration and attitude.
“I think it’s just paying attention to details in your route,” he told reporters. “You’ve got to be more detailed in your route coming in and out of your cut, 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.”
As far as who has the edge, in the muck, Nicks said it’s the offensive side of the ball.
“I feel like it’s always to the receivers’ advantage because we know where we’re going on a route,” he said. “DB’s are just guessing or playing their coverage. So I always feel like it’s to the receivers’ advantage because we know what we’re going to do during our routes.”