EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** As he is wont to do from time-to-time, Tom Coughlin today called himself a dinosaur. When dinosaurs played football, it was a rugged, run-oriented game contested in the trenches.
Though rushing attacks aren't extinct like the tyrannosaurus, they are not as prevalent in the NFL as they once were. But Coughlin believes stopping them is just as vital.
Which brings us to the Giants' home game Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners like to run the ball. They are currently ninth in the NFL with 122.2 yards a game. Last year, they finished third in the league.
If the Giants are to end their four-game losing streak, Coughlin believes a starting point is not letting the 49ers run at will.
"That's what the National Football League is," Coughlin said today. "I know where we are and I've got it and we'll get it. The ball is in the air a tremendous amount of the time. If you don't stop the run, the signal that you're sending about the physical nature of your play is not good enough. That's where it starts with me. I know I'm a dinosaur."
It may be old-fashioned, but stopping the run is still a vital component to winning games – or, as the Giants learned last week, to losing them if you can't slow down an opponent's ground game. The Seattle Seahawks churned out 350 yards and five touchdowns in their 38-17 victory. With another run-heavy, zone read NFC West team next up on the schedule, the importance of stifling the Niners' rushing attack has been driven home to the Giants' defensive players.
"We are, most definitely, determined to make sure that we play physical, stay low and are fundamentally sound with each other," defensive tackle Mike Patterson said. "They've got a good offensive line. We watch them on film, they're about to get after guys. They come down off real low and they use their pads real well, so I'm sure we're going to get tested in every single way that they possibly know how to test us. It's going to be a battle up front. Last week we gave up a lot of rushing yards, so now they're going to feel like they can test us in that and see what they can do. They're going to want us to prove to them that we're able to play and stop them."
"You don't want to give up 350 yards total and definitely not on the ground," linebacker Mark Herzlich said. "We have to be aggressive, we have to be physical and we have to tackle better. Those are some of the things we've been working on this week."
The determination to stop the run is not limited to the front seven. The defensive backs, particularly the safeties, will join the gang trying to stop Frank Gore and Co.
Keep an eye on these 5 players as the Giants face the 49ers on Sunday
"We know how big that is, stopping the run," safety Quintin Demps said. "Every game, you want to come out and set a tone physically, but especially against them, because they're trying to be physical. They're trying to be smash mouth. They want to run the ball at you and see if you can tackle, see if you can hold up. We definitely have to let them know right at kickoff that it's going to be a physical game."
Just as the dinosaurs used to do.
- The Giants will be without their leading tackler and two other key players on Sunday. Linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion), running back Peyton Hillis (concussion) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) will not play Sunday.
Defensive ends Mathias Kiwanuka (knee) and Damontre Moore (shoulder), running back Rashad Jennings (knee), safety Nat Berhe (ankle) and tight end Daniel Fells (neck) are all probable. All five of those players were limited in practice today.
Herzlich, Jameel McClain, Spencer Paysinger and rookie Devon Kennard are the only four healthy linebackers on the roster. All of them have practiced in multiple positions.
"Going back to training camp, Jameel was the SAM and then he was a WIL and then he was a MIK," Herzlich said. "Then (Jon) Beason comes back and he's a SAM again. Devon's played MIK and SAM and WIL. Spence and I have been doing that for four years now. Wherever there's a spot, we'll jump in. Obviously, Jacquian is a different kind of cat and we would love to have him on the field. But we'll pick up the slack without him in there."
- Although Jennings hasn't played since Oct. 5, neither he nor Coughlin wants to put a limit on how many carries he might get Sunday.
"It might be 50, if we could win," Coughlin said. "At this point, we need a win.
"He hasn't played in a while. He's practiced well and certainly knows his assignments, knows exactly what's expected of him and he's a guy that knows his own body and works so hard at it. I think that he feels good about it."
"It definitely feels good," Jennings said, "just to be out on the practice field with the guys, being able to have more emotional investment into the game. It is not fun when you are watching from the couch, yelling at the television, and your little dog is looking at you all crazy. This is my livelihood, this is what I do right now as my profession. I am glad to be back."
- The 49ers declared two players out of the game, nose tackle Ian Williams (fibula) and safety Jimmie Ward (foot). Three players are questionable: Wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle), cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring) and linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle).