Desperate times call for desperate measures. The San Francisco ’49ers don’t have any flashy wideouts or MVP candidate passers to throw against the New York Giants this Sunday. Instead, in key situations they rely on what some would call trick plays but which are just bread and butter to San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh.
’49ers quarterback Alex Smith, for instance, hasn’t got Eli Manning’s arm, but gets by on deft ball handling, faking and isolating, and setting up receivers. With the score 24-23 and a little more than two minutes to play against the New Orleans Saints in last week’s playoff game, Smith bootlegged to his left and went untouched, 28 yards down the sideline, for a touchdown.
Under what circumstance might he try a similar play against the Giants? Look for the ’49ers to be within field goal range and on a third and long which would normally be considered a passing down. When San Francisco puts a man on each side of the offensive line — “in the slot” they call it — it will likely not be for the purpose of sending those guys out for a pass but for blocking. Which side will Smith run to? Whichever side the Giants don’t put the extra pass defender. atch Smith run that play here.
Bonus: He can run the ball in Spanish.
Not having a Victor Cruz or a Hakeem Nicks at the wipeout position, the ’49ers usually throw to their great tight end, Vernon Davis. This is the year of great tight ends in the NFL. The New England Patriots have two; Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez caught 19 passes for 261 yards and four TDs in New England’s 45-10 victory over Denver last weekend. Davis is in their class, having caught 67 passes this season for a 13.2 average, just about what a wide receiver averages. He’s going to be tough for the Giants — he gets off the line quick, is too fast for all linebackers to cover and too strong for a defensive back to bring down when he makes the grab.
How do you neutralize a guy like this? You don’t really, but you can at least limit the number of times he goes out for a pass by forcing the ’49ers to keep him in as a blocker. And you do that by getting pressure on the quarterback with your front four defensive linemen — which, fortunately for the Giants, is what they do best.