We're only a few days away from the highly anticipated NFC Championship rematch between the San Francisco 49ers (4-1) and the New York Giants (3-2). Likely more than Giants fans, the 49ers fans have been looking forward to this one. And whether the players and coaches want to admit it or not, this has revenge written all over it.
For the third time in 11 months, the Niners will host Big Blue at Candlestick Park in the Bay.
There will be plenty of great individual match-ups to watch, and some more than others will be critical factors in deciding the game. Of the match-ups this weekend, the one I really like in favor of San Francisco is the one of the 49ers linebackers versus the Giants running backs.
While the Niners have some other favorable match-ups, this one stands out a bit more. Spearheaded by two All-Pros, their linebackers are the best in the league, especially when it comes to running down tailbacks. The Giants are with an elite or powerful runner, and therefor, will be unable to match the physicality of the Niners defensive front.
The style of the Giants run game is more finesse, when the 49ers demand brute force. Opposing teams cannot swiftly run by San Francisco - they must be matched physically, and challenged with hard running.
The Giants have a small-in-stature, inexperienced backfield with a tendency across the board to cough up the football. Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Brown and David Wilson are all in over their heads when it comes to this game. The 49ers defensive line will be clogging up lanes, while the linebackers will be charging the ball carrier and attacking the football.
The linebackers are playing extremely well together. The four horsemen made of Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks all bring something unique to the game, and provide a perfect complement to one another. It also helps that they all play at a very high level consistently, and could not fit this 3-4 scheme better.
No matter who is running the ball for New York, ball security could be a serious issue. The 49ers backers do not adhere to the statistical norms either; they will continue attacking the football for sixty minutes, despite how many takeaways they've already earned in said game.
So, it's not like if Bradshaw coughs it up early, the Niners will take it easy and allow him to run wild after (See: Giants vs. Browns in Week 5). The 49ers linebackers are predators: they will smell blood in the water and swarm.
This match-up could provide a tremendous strategic advantage for San Francisco as the game progresses. If the 49ers linebackers can lock down the Giants running game, they can make the offense one-dimensional, and that's really when they can put New York away.
When the Niners have put the clamps down on offenses and forced them to all but abandon the run, pass-heavy desperation attempts have been an exercise in futility. In all four of San Francisco's victories in 2012, they've shutdown the run, gotten an early lead and never let it go.
This mismatch could have a ripple effect on the rest of the game.