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49ers Vs. Giants, 2012 NFC Championship Game: A Chat With Big Blue View

The 49ers and Giants get going in 48 hours and I thought it would be fun to chat with Ed Valentine from Big Blue View. Ed also runs SB Nation New York, so you can get double your Giants coverage if you are so inclined. Ed put together a piece ranking the final four quarterbacks and he had Alex Smith third and Joe Flacco fourth. Needless to say, that has Ravens fans just a little bit fired up.

I chatted with Ed earlier this morning and have copied and pasted the discussion below. My apologies for spelling errors and the like. This was a bit more interesting than just exchanging five questions as we could transition in and out of topics. Thanks to Ed and Big Blue View as we get ready for Sunday's huge showdown.

Niners Nation: I guess the best start, is how have the Giants changed since Week Ten?

Big Blue View: Well, two things. One is health and the second is confidence. When the teams met the first time, Michael Boley went down with an injury, Prince Amukamara wasn't back yet and Justin Tuck wasn't close to healthy. Defensively, they are as healthy as they can be at this point. They shut out the Falcons. They gave up 20 points to Green Bay, and would have only given up six without Green Bay getting the help of two horrible calls. So, they feel good about themselves defensively.

Actually, a third thing. They are running the ball better. They did finish last in the league in rushing, but for the past five or six weeks they have at least been adequate running the ball. me: one side question real quick. ESPN lists Osi as having a sack in that game. Is that a mistake?

NN: For the 49ers, since week ten, the 49ers have released wide receiver Braylon Edwards. He was brought in to be a big deep threat and a knee injury ended most any chance of that. The 49ers wide receivers have been a bit limited at times due to injuries, leaving Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis as their most consistent receiving threats Frank Gore was banged up in that game and left after the first half with a knee injury. He is still a bit banged up, but the bye week helped rest him up.

Ray McDonald was limited with a hamstring injury prior to week ten but ended up playing. In a bit of a coincidence, he injured his hamstring in Week 17 and while he will play, he is a bit limited as well

But the big difference for this team is just having more time to bring their units together. They have been implementing their offense on the fly thanks to the lockout and the time has helped improve the passing game to a certain extent

BBV: Tell me how 49ers fans feel about Alex Smith at this point.

NN: 49ers fans have been on a roller coaster with Alex through the years and right now fans are pretty thrilled with him. He has had his moments this season, but this was on the biggest stage with significant pressure against arguably the best quarterback in the NFL

It will be interesting to see what kind of response a poor performance would get, but at Niners Nation most people went all in with Alex on that touchdown

BBV: Tell me how you see the weather impacting Sunday's game? Lousy conditions would be an advantage for which team?

NN: My initial thought on the weather was that it favors the 49ers ground it out style. If this became a battle in the trenches, my initial thought was that the 49ers rushing attack would be the difference. However, upon further reflection, you could argue the passing game could benefit. I heard one suggestion that cornerbacks having to react in muddy conditions are at a disadvantage against wide receivers running forward. Additionally, there is the idea that it could slow down the pass rush to a certain extent. If that were the case, I could see the Giants passing attack actually benefiting.

I think the big question will be on punt returns. With bad conditions, there is a chance for returner fumbles and there is also the chance that a coverage player slips in the mud and opens up a lane Speaking of weather, how do the Giants perform in rainy weather? Have they had any such opportunities this year?

BBV: Not really this season that I can recall. The simple issue for me with weather comes down to the big play and whether or not the Giants can hit them. They are an offense dependent on receivers getting yards after catch or running backs getting a big chunk, and I don't know how the conditions will impact that.

NN: I've got a QB question for you. Eli Manning seemed to have some great protection at times against the Packers. How does he perform when the pass rush is a bit more effective and he is forced to scramble and throw?

BBV: Well, Eli had great protection at times and crappy protection at others. One of the great misunderstood things about Eli and the Giants offensive line is how bad they are, and how good he makes them look. He is terrific at getting the ball out quickly, at finding the right running plays to take advantage of defensive alignments and at moving very subtly in the pocket to find himself space to throw. He makes that offensive line look much better than it actually is. Giants fans don't really like to see Eli running around. Bad things have happened in the past in those situations, but this year he has been much more careful with the ball.

NN: Will Ahmad Bradshaw play on Sunday and if so, what can we expect the Giants to attempt with the run game

BBV: Sure, there's no reason he won't play. He has been limited in practice for weeks now so as not to aggravate the foot injury he has dealt with much of the year, but he shows up on Sunday. The Giants will do what they do in the run game. A little Bradshaw, a little Brandon Jacobs, an occasional shotgun draw with D.J. Ware. Some play-action. At this point all they want is enough success running the ball that the 49ers have to play run and pass. They don't want to see Manning throwing 50 times.

BBV: Are you expecting Ted Ginn to pay Sunday? The Niners have an advantage on special teams, I think, and without Ginn that would seem to help the Giants a bit.

NN: He seems to be the most questionable of the 49ers injury concerns and I would be a bit surprised to see him play. Kyle William will handle punt returns. He has been decent enough but has not had the game-breaking plays of Ginn, so that would seem to benefit the Giants.

His absence also leaves the 49ers a bit limited at wide receiver. They would have Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Brett Swain and Joe Hastings as their four receivers. Not exactly Cruz-Nicks-Manningham

BBV: Last question for me ... how do you see the game playing out, and what is your prediction?

NN: My prediction this week has been 23-20. While I think Eli Manning will get plenty of yards, I think the 49ers red zone defense is able to contain the Giants offense down close. The 49ers showed an ability to win a shootout last week against the Saints, but that really isn't their style. Ideally the defense and special teams dominate and Alex Smith keeps his steady hand on the offense

NN: The Giants have been chirping a little bit in the media in part because of Vernon Davis' mention of wanting them over the Packers (home-field purposes). Have the Giants been a team that talks a bit?

BBV: Well, that's funny that you bring that up. There seems to be an impression (yes, Dontae Whitner I am pointing my finger at you) that the Giants talk a lot of trash. That surprises me because around these parts the Giants have the rep as the team that tends to its business and lets the Jets make idiots of themselves with their braggadoccio.

I think that Davis started this and the Giants simply responded. I also think that in large part the Giants have simply answered questions this week, they haven't gone out of their way to rip the 49ers or make predictions or anything like that. I mean, when somebody asks Justin Tuck 'Do you think you can win in San Francisco this weekend?' what is he supposed to say?

NN: I happen to agree with you. I wrote something about the bulletin board material that really isn't bulletin board material. Leave it to the Jets :)

BBV: Antrel Rolle may have gone too far with his 'we can't be beat,' but shouldn't he feel that way? He shouldn't have said it, but he should feel good about his team. me: Exactly. If you don't think you'll win, you shouldn't be playing

NN: Alright, last question. How do you see the game playing out and what is your final prediction?

BBV: Well, considering the way the season has gone and the types of teams these are I can't see anything other than a nail-biter that comes right down to the end. I have been predicting 27-24 Giants all week. While I think that score might be a tad high, actually, I would say this. If you guys want to win, do not give Eli Manning the ball last with a second chance to beat you. In that scenario, I would be seriously stunned if the Giants don't win the game.

NN: Justin Smith disagrees :) That's about the extent of my trash talk

BBV: Well, the only thing I will say about that is that if the incredibly obvious pass interference call on Jake Ballard by Patrick Willis had been called on that final play Manning would have beaten you the last time. Since when is it legal to lower your helmet, wrap both arms around a guy and basically tackle him to keep him from getting into his pass route?

BBV: Anyway, I'm good ... enjoy the game on Sunday

NN: Thanks, you too