Eli Manning has been sacked less in the first 20 quarters of the 2012 season than he was in five periods in the NFC Championship Game.
That statement indicates a) Manning absorbed too much punishment when the Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 20-17, in overtime last Jan. 22 to advance to Super Bowl XLVI; b) the offensive line has improved its protection and/or Manning is releasing the ball faster this year; and c) the Giants probably need to keep Manning upright against the NFL's second-ranked defense Sunday if they are to defeat the red-hot Niners in Candlestick Park.
Manning has been tackled attempting to pass just four times in the Giants' first five games. He was sacked six times – and the 49ers were credited with 12 hits on him – in their last meeting.
"They have a powerful rush unit," coach Tom Coughlin said today. "They got to the quarterback many more times than you'd like."
The only person who seems unconcerned about that is, as usual, Manning. Although he kept picking himself off the ground that rainy evening, Manning did complete 32 of 58 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Today, he literally and figuratively shrugged off all the hits he took in that game.
"We also had 64 drop backs," Manning said. "You throw the ball that many times, you're going to take hits. Hopefully, we can have a good balance of the run and pass. You're going to get hit sometimes playing quarterback. You don't worry about that. Hopefully, you'll have enough time to get the ball out for the routes to develop, and guys are getting open."
While the sacks don't bother Manning, they certainly annoy the men whose job it is to protect him. To the offensive linemen, one sack is too many. Six is unacceptable.
"That game was certainly something we thought about," guard Chris Snee said. "Even though we won the Super Bowl and we beat them in that game, we still walked away saying that we didn't play well, we didn't do our job up front. That can motivate you throughout the offseason."
"We need to go out there and do a better job," said center David Baas, a former 49er. "They have a good defense. You've got to give them credit and they touched Eli way too many times. So that's something that we have to focus on. And they pride themselves on stopping the run. So we have to build on what we did (on Sunday, when they rushed for 243 yards and did not allow a sack in a victory over Cleveland) and get prepared and just do the right things this week. We have to execute our game plan."
Time and again in the championship game, Manning absorbed a punishing hit, pulled himself off the muddy Candlestick Park field and prepared for the next play without complaint. While seemingly everyone who watched the game was impressed with his resilience and toughness, to Manning it was just part of a day's work.
He concedes, however, that the 49ers are one of the most physical teams the Giants will face.
"They're up there," Manning said. "They're very good. Their front seven is talented, they have good corners, their safeties come up and tackle and hit. So, they're good all over the field, and each player is going to have to win their individual battles, and do a good job of blocking and receivers getting open, and running backs making guys miss."
No one admires Manning's toughness more than the Giants' linemen. But they are well aware it becomes a topic for discussion when Manning is frequently getting sacked and hit, which is exactly what they're trying to avoid.
"I guess in an ideal world, you guys (reporters) would still be questioning his toughness because he wouldn't have gotten hit, but it's one of those things," guard Kevin Boothe said. "It's football. He's a tough guy, we know he's a tough guy, but we like for him to hide his toughness. So hopefully he doesn't get hit like that ever again."
Manning was sacked three times in the Giants' opening night loss to Dallas. In the four games since, he's been sacked just once, in a victory at Carolina, and not at all the last two games.
"I think we're just doing a better job of winning battles up front. It's as simple as that," Snee said. "It's a group effort, but it's been a solid group effort so far and it needs to stay that way."
Snee also credited Manning with avoiding sacks and pressure.
"He's finally getting some notice for that," Snee said. "He gets the ball out of his hand, stays in there, takes hits and delivers the ball. So he does a great job of that and when a play is not there, he'll throw it away."
Although the 49ers have one of the league's stingiest defenses, one that allowed just a field goal in the last two games, they have only nine sacks in five games.
The Giants will do everything they can to keep that total where it is on Sunday.