Run game will be key in rematch of NFC title game

The SportsXchange

The numbers posted by the San Francisco 49ers, who happen to be the New York Giants' next opponent, are certainly daunting on a first glance.

The 49ers (4-1) have outscored opponents 149-68 this season, including a combined 79-3 thrashing against their last two opponents, the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, against whom they rushed for 556 of their 979 yards.

Defensively, San Francisco is allowing just 13.6 points per game, tops in the NFC, and the 49ers are ranked in the top five within the conference in yards allowed per game, passing yards per game and running yards per game.

The 49ers' rather impressive start certainly doesn't surprise the Giants, many of whom remember what a slugfest the teams had in last season's NFC Championship Game, which New York won in overtime at San Francisco.

"They're a very talented group. They came down to the wire with us. I only expect them to get better," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "I think under (coach) Jim Harbaugh, I don't think that team is going to be allowed to slack off, especially after the performance they put on last year. I think they can only get better and continue to get better from this point on."

Despite San Francisco's somewhat intimidating stats, the Giants (3-2) aren't about to back down from an opponent that returns most of its starters on both offense and defense from the last time the two met. The 49ers also have added a couple of former key Giants, running back Brandon Jacobs and receiver Mario Manningham.

Giants center David Baas, who spent the first six years of his career as a member of the 49ers, noted his former team's strong play.

"You see it, but we scored 41 points (last week), too," he said. "We're not going to sit here and think they're the almighty. We know we have a good team, too. We know it's going to be a battle."

That of course, would probably be an understatement, as some members of the 49ers have made little attempt in recent days to hide their ire over the Giants' victory last January denied them a Super Bowl berth.

The teams also met last November in San Francisco, with the Giants losing 27-20.

"They have played extremely well," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "They've got a lot of numbers. They're going to test you in a lot of categories."

One category Coughlin anticipates being a key in this week's game is in the running game. In four of the 49ers' five games this season, San Francisco has accumulated at least 148 yards on the ground, with 556 of its 979 season rushing yards coming over the past two weeks.

"If you're going to play football with them, you're going to have to stop the run and run the ball," Coughlin said. "They are very good in their offensive and defensive lines."

Still, the feeling within the Giants' locker room is that they can stand toe-to-toe with anyone in the NFL if they focus on executing the game plan and avoid making some of the mistakes that they had in weeks past as far as breakdowns in coverage and blocking assignments, dropped passes and miscommunications.

Then there is an extra motivational factor that stems back to last January when, according to some 49ers players, the Giants "stole" the game from them. That sentiment has some believing that an already good 49ers team that will be playing at home will be extra fired up to pay back the Giants.

"Nobody gives us a chance to win," Coughlin said, adding that he senses that his team is consistently an underdog whenever it goes up against what's perceived to be a stronger opponent.

But as Coughlin likes to say "Talk is cheap; play the game," and when it comes to the chatter coming out of San Francisco, the Giants players simply roll their eyes and remind people that this is why the game is played on Sunday.

"Honestly I don't care what they think," Baas said. "Say anything they want, get redemption for whatever. It's important for us to go out and get the win, and that's all we're focused on."
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