The Giants, 3-2, will visit the 4-1 San Francisco 49ers Sunday in one of the most significant early-season games on the NFL schedule. It is a rematch of the 2011 NFC Championship Game won by the Giants in overtime, 20-17. Both the regular season series (14-14) and the postseason series (4-4) are tied. The Giants and 49ers will meet for the third time in 11 months in Candlestick, where they played two thrilling games last season. On Nov. 11, Eli Manning's late fourth-down pass was batted down by Justin Smith and the 49ers escaped with a 27-20 victory. The teams clashed again in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 22, when Lawrence Tynes' 31-yard field goal in overtime sent the Giants to Super Bowl XLVI. The Giants are 4-7 in the regular season and 2-4 in the postseason in Candlestick Park since the 49ers moved there in 1971.
The 49ers defeated the Jets and Buffalo in their last two games by a combined 79-3. It is the first time since 1961 they won consecutive games by more than 30 points. San Francisco is ranked sixth in the NFL in offense with an average of 401.2 yards a game. The 49ers lead the league in rushing yards per game (195.8) and per carry (6.1). They are 27th in passing (205.4) and their 29.8 points per game place them third.
In their 45-3 dismantling of Buffalo on Sunday, the 49ers totaled a franchise-record 621 yards of offense and became the first team in NFL history to have more than 300 rushing yards (311) and 300 passing yards (310) in a game. The 49ers had a 300-yard passer (Alex Smith, 303), 100-yard rusher (Frank Gore, 106) and two 100-yard receivers (Michael Crabtree, 113, and Vernon Davis, 106) in the same game for the first time since Nov.19, 1961. San Francisco is 10-1 in regular-season games in Candlestick since December 2010.
The 49ers play a ball-control, quarterback-friendly offense. They frequently employ one or even two extra offensive linemen to boost their ground game.
Smith's primary responsibilities are to get the ball in the hands of the team's playmakers and avoid turnovers. He has thrown only one interception in 137 attempts this season, but he has absorbed 12 sacks. Smith, who has thrown eight touchdown passes, leads the NFL with a 108.7 passer rating. When Smith gets in a good rhythm he is an accurate passer. He is a good athlete who has averaged 5.9 yards on 18 rushing attempts. Backup Colin Kaepernick has been used as a wildcat or alternative quarterback and rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on only 10 carries. He is also an improved passer with big-play ability.
Three-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore has been the heart of San Francisco's offense for seven years. The franchise's career rushing leader with 8,057 yards, Gore is a playmaking every-down back with vision, strength, power and elusiveness. He has scored a touchdown in four of the five games this season. Kendall Hunter is a change-of-pace back who runs with patience and speed. He also has good hands. Former Giant Brandon Jacobs has been inactive for every game because of a knee injury he suffered in the preseason, though he might make his 49ers debut this week.
Fullback Bruce Miller is a converted defensive end who is much-improved at his new position. He has good foot quickness and receiving skills. Will Tukuafu is listed as a nose tackle, but he has far more offensive snaps (49) than defensive snaps (six). He has become a punishing blocker.
The 49ers constantly rotate several wide receivers in and out of the game. Fourth-year pro Michael Crabtree is the most targeted wideout and leads the team with 27 catches. He is big, strong and exceptionally athletic, as well as a good route runner and competitive blocker. Former Giant Mario Manningham is still blessed with rare quickness. He has 19 catches and two runs for 57 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season last week vs. Buffalo. The third wide receiver is Kyle Williams, whose two fumbled punts helped the Giants win the title game last season. Williams is quick off the line of scrimmage and has soft hands. Randy Moss ended his retirement after one year and has played about 20 snaps a game for the Niners. He has nine catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Ted Ginn, Jr. missed the first three games with an ankle sprain. He has yet to catch a pass this season – San Francisco likes to run him on the end-around – but is potentially an explosive playmaker.
Both the 49ers' first-round draft choice, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, and their second-round selection, running back LaMichael James, have been inactive for every game.
Vernon Davis is a tight end with no discernible weakness. The team leader with four touchdown catches, he lines up all over the formation, gets excellent separation and creates mismatch problems. Delanie Walker is similar to Davis. He can elude defenders and takes advantage of his quickness and speed. Rookie Garrett Celek is the brother of Philadelphia Eagle Brent.
San Francisco has a tough, physical offensive line. The strength of the line is on the left side in tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati. When the Niners need to gain a tough yard or two they run left. Staley is a smart, powerful blocker with the quickness to take on ends. Iupati is extremely hard to beat when he gets his hands on a defender. Center Jonathan Goodwin has made 87 career starts and specializes in taking good angles. The newcomer on the line is right guard Alex Boone, who replaced Adam Snyder. Boone is a 6-8, 300-pounder who is a short-area mauler. Right tackle Anthony Davis is a much-improved player who is flashing power more frequently. The XO – or extra lineman, the role Boone played last year -- is 355-pound Leonard Davis. When the Niners use a double XO it is Daniel Kilgore.
San Francisco's 3-4 defense is first in the league in points allowed per game (13.6) and second in yards given up (262.6) and passing yards (181.2). The Niners are seventh in rushing yards (81.4).
Ten of 11 starters returned to the defense. The exception is outside linebacker Parys Haralson, who was replaced by Aldon Smith. The 49ers are last in the NFL by allowing their opponents to score 100 percent of the time they travel inside the 20, including touchdowns on 83.3 percent of those possessions. But the stat is misleading, because the Niners' red zone has been pierced just six times in five games. San Francisco has allowed only one 100-yard rusher in its last 43 games (Seattle's Marshawn Lynch). The 49ers have not given up a rushing touchdown in their last 12 home games.
The 49ers' defensive front uses a variety of tricks and stunts to create pressure on the quarterback. On the right side is Justin Smith, who has started 176 consecutive games and has never missed one in 12 years because of injury. Smith, who was selected to the last three Pro Bowls, is explosive and relentless. Left end Ray McDonald is a strong point of attack defender. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is a physical run defender. Ricky Jean Francois started against the Jets two weeks ago and can play any of the line positions. None of the other backups get any appreciable playing time.
The two inside linebackers, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, have rare athletic ability. Bowman leads the team with 58 tackles (29 solo), including 17 in San Francisco's only loss, at Minnesota. As those stats indicate, Bowman makes plays all over the field. Willis, a five-time Pro Bowler, is a gifted player with few limitations. He is a big, strong, powerful presence in the middle of the defense. On the outside, Aldon Smith has been the Niners' best pass rusher. He has a team-high 4.5 sacks. A long-limbed rusher, he has improved his shed skills and is dangerous off the edge. Ahmad Brooks is another outside linebacker with the speed to run down ballcarriers or pressure the passer. Each of the four linebackers seldom leaves the field.
Left cornerback Carlos Rogers, who had two interceptions in the 49ers' regular-season victory over the Giants last Nov. 13, moves well, is quick to recover and has a good feel when the Niners play zone. On the other side, Tarell Brown has impressive straight line speed and he is willing to fight with a receiver down the field. When San Francisco goes to the nickel, Chris Culliver plays left corner and Rogers moves into the slot. The dime back is Perrish Cox. Free safety Dashon Goldson was a Pro Bower last season. He flies all over the field, has run-stopping ability and must be accounted for. Donte Whitner is a savvy veteran who is quick to diagnose a play. He is an effective blitzer from his strong safety position.
The 49ers have an outstanding duo of kickers in David Akers and Andy Lee. Akers is kicking as well as he ever has in his 14th season. He booted a 63-yard field goal in Green Bay in the opener and has made 10 of 13 attempts. One of the misses was blocked and another was a 55-yarder. Lee is one of the NFL's better punters, one who can seemingly do whatever he wants with the ball. He has a 47.5-yard gross average and a 39.4-yard net average. Ginn is averaging 8.4 yards on seven punt returns. Hunter (23.6-yard average on seven returns) and Kyle Williams (35.7-yard average on six runbacks, including a 94-yarder) have split the kickoff returns. San Francisco's coverage teams have struggled. The Niners are 31st defending punts (23.6-yard average, including a 75-yard touchdown by Green Bay's Randall Cobb) and 30th covering kickoffs (30.9-yard average).