Earlier this week I chatted with Ed Valentine of Big Blue View in a Google+ Hangout. During the video chat, Ed mentioned how the Giants pass rush is struggling. Tom Coughlin has mentioned this as well in comments to the media, and the numbers would seem to back it up. The Giants are No. 25 in the NFL in sacks (eight sacks) and rank No. 26 in adjusted sack rate. Adjusted sack rate gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.
Alex Smith has had some great success the last two sacks, in part because the offensive line has been thoroughly dominating the opposition. Defenders might get to Smith on occasion, but the line has not only kept him on his feet for much of the last two weeks, but they have also given him a lot of time to progress through his reads. When Alex Smith has that kind of time, good things can happen.
On the other side of things, the 49ers rank No. 20 in the NFL in sacks (nine sacks) and rank No. 22 in adjusted sack rate. Aldon Smith has 4 1/2 sacks and Ahmad Brooks has 3 1/2 sacks, but the rest of the team is not quite getting the sack totals we saw last year. And yet, the pass rush has been bringing some measure of pressure. Vic Fangio was asked about the pass rush and in particular Justin Smith not having a sack this year:
This is probably low-hanging fruit, but Justin Smith hasn't had a sack. People who look at that and say, ‘what's wrong with him?' What would you say?
"There's nothing wrong. There's nothing wrong with him. He's still applying good pressure. Teams have thrown the ball quickly on us at times. I haven't felt during any of the games like, ‘damn, where's our pass rush?' And until I feel that then we don't have a problem. Sacks are good. It's a number that fans and you guys can sink your teeth into, but it's not the only thing. Pressure is critical, causing incompletions, altering throws. On the interception that [CB Chris] Culliver got last week against Buffalo, that was a direct result of a really good rush by [LB] Ahmad Brooks. He doesn't get credited for a sack for that. I like the interception better than the sack. So, the sack is a stat that people like to talk about. But, that's not the only indicator of whether you're rushing the passer good or not."
Given the performance of Eli Manning in recent weeks, the 49ers pass rush will need to disrupt him. We'll see a lot of the nickel so that means Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith joining Ray McDonald and Justin Smith with a hand on the ground.
If the 49ers cannot get some consistent pressure on Eli, they could be in trouble. They got all up in his area in the NFC Championship Game, and while he did get a sizable number of yards, the Giants offense struggled to get much going in general. I don't know what people thought about him before that game, but he showed some serious toughness given the beating he took into overtime. The 49ers will need to bring that kind of pressure back this Sunday to try and slow down the Giants passing game.
Will either pass rushing unit find success, or could this end up in a bit more of a shootout fashion?