This stuff happens a lot with Victor Cruz. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Maybe I'm buying into hype and falling into some kind of trap, but all I can bring myself to think about when I consider matchup possibilities between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers is the Giants' group of receivers up against the 49ers' secondary. I've set out to write several pieces about the game, and even though I've come to focus on certain things like the elevated play of Carlos Rogers or the worrying play of Chris Culliver, it always centers around their receivers.
But I am starting to soften a little bit. I base a lot of my respect for the Giants receivers on games where they played poor against a poor secondary or a team that didn't know how to tackle. They were wildly impressive against the Green Bay Packers, but the Packers are absolutely hopeless in that regard. So maybe I am overreacting a little bit to the challenge presented, but I do want to touch up on one thing that absolutely can't happen: missed tackles.
It's true the 49ers are a group of sure tacklers, but within the secondary and notably the safety position, "hard tacklers," is a better term. It also means that big plays can be given up, something we saw against the New Orleans Saints that, really, almost cost us the game. We haven't touched up on it much because, hey, the 49ers offense came back to win the game for us. While that's great and I consider it a coming-out party for them and I expect better production from here on out, it's not something we can really depend on.
The 49ers need to be tackling well on Sunday, not just hard. Victor Cruz is one guy to specifically keep an eye on in this regard. If the 49ers give him a chance, he'll beat them every time. Cruz is No. 6 in the entire NFL in yards after catch this season, with just under 600 yards after catching the football. One potential weak spot for him to exploit is Chris Culliver, who has been known to bite on things like curl routes and quick routes that could give Cruz time to catch the ball, adjust, and go for it.
He also was beat a good amount of times by the Giants' receivers in the first meeting (namely Mario Manningham). I don't think I need to remind you that the Giants would almost assuredly have won that gave if Eli Manning didn't overthrow his target on deep balls to the endzone twice. Culliver was the guy defending on both of those plays. I'm not saying he's bad by any stretch of the imagination - he's actually surprised me this year - but the 49ers as a whole need to keep plays in front of them on Sunday, above all else.