Giants vs. 49ers: How Will Big Blue's Running Game Break Through Niners' D-Line?
The Niners D hasn't allowed more than 150 yards on the ground since 2010. The last time they faced the Giants in the 2011 NFC Championship game, Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for only 87 yards rushing. But the defending champs look to set a new tone in San Francisco on Sunday.
Ahmad Bradshaw is on the heels of a 200-yard performance against the Browns defense, and Big Blue also has Andre Brown to turn to as a change of pace.
Eli Manning's aerial attack has kept defenses thinking pass all season long, and Bradshaw is often left unaccounted for by opposing defenses. The 49ers' elite defense, however, may be the best the league has seen in decades.
Tom Coughlin's team will need to dig deep to gain significant yardage Sunday. Here's how they'll do it.
Dominate Through the Air
The Giants are at their best when Eli Manning is orchestrating the offense aerially. Over the past year, Manning has blossomed into one of the league's premier passing options, and opposing defenses would find it hard to disagree.
What makes the G-Men even more dangerous is that their running attack can be among the league's best as well.
Defenses can never stray too far from the run, because as soon as they do, Ahmad Bradshaw will be sure to make them pay. Take a look at last week's matchup versus the Browns, for example.
The Giants fell behind early, and Eli Manning went to work through the air to shave Cleveland's lead down. After the Browns shifted their attention to Victor Cruz and Manning's various other targets, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride turned to Ahmad Bradshaw. Thirty carries and 200 yards later, the Giants emerged victorious.
This may be the same approach Big Blue will have to take against San Francisco. Tom Coughlin, of course, would prefer not to fall behind to the dangerous 49ers, but distracting Jim Harbaugh's crew with the passing attack will be the Giants' best bet at dominating on the ground.
Progressing Offensive Line
Giants lineman David Diehl has missed the last three games with an injured MCL suffered against Tampa Bay. His return for Week 6 is probable, and it will only bolster the team's sturdy offensive line.
The improvement of Sean Locklear may cause the Giants to rethink whether they want to plug Diehl back in just yet. After all, the Giants' O-line is coming off their most promising performance last week, albeit against a lowly Cleveland defensive front.
Regardless, it's a good problem to have for New York, whose line appeared to be a weakness heading into the season.
Tackle Chris Snee was questionable heading into last week's game, but was able to go despite a hip injury. He'll be stronger for this week's matchup with the 49ers, which can only give the defending champs more of an advantage heading into Sunday.
After all, the Giants' offensive line was their primary weakness in their last matchup in San Francisco. In that game, they allowed Eli Manning to be sacked six times for a total loss of nearly 50 yards.
Turn to Andre Brown
When the Giants were a rushing-dominant team just a few seasons ago, they featured multiple efficient backs that could handle the ball.
In 2008, the Giants were just the fifth team in NFL history to have two players rush for over 1,000 yards when Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward each eclipsed the millennium-mark for Big Blue.
The Giants seem to have a slew of options in the wings behind Ahmad Bradshaw. They drafted David Wilson in the first round of last year's draft, but the rookie has failed to impress in the backfield. Prior to Week 5 against the Browns, he had carried the ball six times for a total of eight yards.
He's been limited to mostly return duties, where he's given the Giants an advantage in an area they were so poor in last season.
Andre Brown, on the other hand, has impressed out of the backfield. Against Carolina in Week 3, Brown carried the ball 20 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
A week before, Brown filled in for Bradshaw against Tampa Bay and rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries. He scored his first career touchdown in that game.
A two-headed rushing monster is a good way to attack the vaunted 49ers run defense. It's a strategy San Francisco has yet to face this season, and Brown and Bradshaw's running styles differ. Combining the two could be a good way to wear down a top run defense.