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10 Keys to Beating the 49ers


1) Field position. On both sides, the 49ers lead the league in field position. On average, their offense starts at the 33.5-yard line while opponents are backed up to the 24.3-yard line. While a symptom of their plus-28 turnover margin, the advantage comes from one of the best special teams in the league. Specialists may decide the game.

2) Defensive backs and linemen working together. Both levels of the defense have complemented each other in the playoff run. The Giants have six sacks and 12 quarterback hits in two playoff games, while the coverage hasn't allowed a pass longer than 21 yards in the same span.

3) Mix it up on Vernon Davis. The tight end will be getting a lot of attention after his dramatics against New Orleans. When asked, linebackers, safeties, and corners all say the key to stopping good tight ends is never giving them the same look. That has been the formula against Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, and Jermichael Finley as of late.

4) Don't sleep on Frank Gore. The running back's streak of five 100-yard games was snapped against the Giants as he left the game with an injury. Before he was hurt, he had six rushes for zero yards. Against New Orleans, Gore rushed 13 times for 89 yards and more than doubled his season-high with seven catches for 38 yards. On a soggy pitch, Gore could be relied on heavily.

5) No early mistakes. No mistakes at all would be ideal, but players in championship games take some time to settle in with all the adrenaline. The first time you come up for air, you don't want to look at the scoreboard and already be down.

6) Fight for balance. Aside from "finish," the emerging theme is "balance." The Giants managed 93 yards on the No. 1 run defense last time, but that came on 29 hard-fought runs. In their four-game winning streak, the Giants have a run-pass balance of 115-125 and have at least 26 rushing attempts in each game.

7) Force the issue.Don't accept that the 49ers won't turn the ball over. Last week, the Giants faced the No. 2 team in turnover differential (plus-24) and won the battle at plus-three (three fumble recoveries and an interception while Eli Manning threw one pick). Now they face the No. 1 team in turnover margin (Side note: Corey Webster intercepted Alex Smith in the first meeting; the quarterback had five all season).

8) Contain Alex Smith.The Giants again face an athletic quarterback after Aaron Rodgers once again led the Packers in rushing with seven carries for 66 yards. A day earlier, Smith scrambled for a 28-yard touchdown against the Saints in a wild last four minutes of the Divisional Round. He scrambled six times against the Giants in the first meeting, totaling 27 yards.

9) Protect Eli. While the sluggish run game has burdened the offensive line, pass protection hadn't really been an issue all season. However, Manning has been hit 12 times in the two playoff games and sacked twice.

10) Limit penalties. The Giants had a few costly ones on special teams against the 49ers in Week 10. It all comes back to field position in this one.

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