The San Francisco 49ers host the New York Giants on Sunday, October 14 at Candlestick Park (4:25 ET on FOX) in a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game. If the Ge-Men want to pull off another upset, they'll have to limit the damage of San Francisco's play-makers on both sides of the ball. Here are the five key 49ers to watch, from a Giants fan's point of view.
NaVorro Bowman (LB) -- Bowman may not be as well known as fellow All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, but the third-year pro is one of the cogs in San Francisco's seventh-ranked run defense. Bowman, who has a team-leading 49 tackles, registered a team-best 143 takedowns in 2011. Incidentally, the Giants have the 12th-ranked running game in the National Football League.
Justin Smith (DE) -- In trying to heap praise on the beastly Smith, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said he "gets away with murder." As you'd expect, that didn't go over well with the 49ers. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh responded by calling the claim "outrageous" and "incendiary." When it's all said and done, however, Smith is going to get the final word on the field of play.
Frank Gore (RB) -- Led by the hard-nosed Gore, the 49ers' rushing offense is tops in the league with 981 total yards (196.2 yards per game). Plus, they're averaging 6.1 yards per rush when no other team is averaging more than 5.2. For the Giants, it all starts with stopping Gore, who is seventh in the league in rushing with 434 yards, but the they have to watch out for Kendall Hunter, too.
Vernon Davis (TE) -- Davis may be the most explosive pass-catching tight end in the business. Do you remember his 73-yard touchdown catch and run in the NFC title game? I'll bet the Giants do. This season, Davis has 303 yards receiving and a team-leading four touchdown catches (no other Niner has more than one). One of the key match-ups will be the Giants' linebackers versus Davis.
Alex Smith (QB) -- Smith is not an elite quarterback, but he currently has the highest quarterback rating in the NFL (108.7). He makes few mistakes (one interception) and wisely takes what defenses gives him. It's crucial for the Giants to get in his face and put him under pressure. In two games against New York last season, Smith was 31-for-56 passing for 438 yards with three TDs and one pick.
Adam Martini is a freelance sports writer who proudly wears his Rodney Hampton jersey on Sundays during the football season. He grew up in Queens, N.Y. rooting for the Giants despite being surrounded by Jets fans. Adam follows back fellow Giants fans on Twitter @PegCitySports.
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