‘Scary good’ 49ers have revenge in mind
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, of the San Francisco 49ers, is stopped short of the goal line by free safety Jairus Byrd, of the Buffalo Bills, during the third quarter at Candlestick Park on October 7, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Buffalo Bills 45-3. (GETTY)
You know everything is going your way when your head coach’s biggest worry is that, well, everything is going your way.
“Nothing’s wrong, except nothing’s wrong. That can be unsettling. It's scary good. But, scary good,” Jim Harbaugh said this week, before his red-hot San Francisco 49ers (4-1) attempt to avenge January’s NFC championship game loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants (3-2).
Sunday afternoon’s showdown is again at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Other than in a trap-game loss to the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 3 – which followed season-opening victories against 2011 NFC playoff teams Green Bay and Detroit – the 49ers appear even better than last year’s 13-3 club.
Once again, for the Niners it all starts on defence.
All 11 starters return from the NFL’s best D in 2011, and this season the unit is allowing only 263 total yards per game (second best in the NFL) and a league-low average of 13.6 points against.
The past two weeks, Frisco destroyed two AFC East playoff hopefuls on both sides of the ball – first the Jets in New York City (34-0) and then the visiting Buffalo Bills (45-3).
“The law of averages say that you’re not going to keep getting the breaks,” Harbaugh said. “You’re not going to stay at that spot.”
Eli Manning and the Giants intend to move them off it.
The San Francisco defence is sure to face a stiff test again from Manning, who was indefatigable in New York’s 20-17 overtime win in the NFC final. The 49ers’ pass rushers roughed up Manning time and again – 12 QB hits and six sacks – yet he kept standing his ground in the pocket, barely unleashing precision passes before the Niners would wallop him, over and over.
Manning was 32-of-58 for 316 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
“He’s a magician. That’s what he is. And he’s a football player,” Harbaugh said of Manning’s toughness and extra-sensory pocket presence. “The things he can get in and out of, and the plays that he makes.
“From a respect standpoint… 10 out of 10.”
This season Manning has been sacked only four times in five games.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio offered this explanation:
“This is the only offence he has ever played in. … He knows where to go with the ball very quickly. And he’s elusive. You wouldn’t say he’s a scrambler, but he’s elusive in the pocket. He buys time.”
What’s more, Manning is completing passes this season at a better clip (65%) than at any time in his career, and he’s on pace to throw for 5,000 yards.
And he’s doing it all with his best receiver, Hakeem Nicks, sidelined with foot and knee injuries for all but one game. Nicks, though, practised Friday and said he thinks he has “a pretty good shot” at suiting up Sunday.
Giving the Giants yet more hope is a reawakened rushing attack. Last week against Cleveland, Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 200 yards on 30 carries. The team’s 243-yard rushing total was its highest in more than a year.
“They play with a lot of balance,” Fangio said. “They’re constantly giving you a good (run/pass) mix.”
So, finally, is San Francisco’s offence – at times a lethal, prolific mix.
Last week against the Bills, the Niners became the first team in NFL history to amass 300+ yards both on the ground and in the air.
Frank Gore again leads a pounding rushing attack – but Alex Smith seems to be blossoming as a big-play quarterback, now that Mario Manningham and Randy Moss have joined a greatly improved Michael Crabtree at wideout, while tight end Vernon Davis remains pre-eminent.
Smith’s TD-to-interception ratio is 8-to-1 – same as Tom Brady’s – and he has completed 69% of his passes, two percentage points better than Brady.
With a lot of help from a solid offensive line, Smith is making it all go, offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.
“I think it’s just totally understanding and grasping what we’re doing, and being a really good decision-maker on the field,” Roman said. “Things are just clicking for him quickly.”
The Giants defence, of course, is no slouch. The mystery is that its celebrated talent and depth up front has produced only eight sacks. Only four teams are worse in that category. There’s no reason to think the Frisco OL can’t handle them.
So, for the 49ers, it all goes back to Harbaugh’s chief concern this week. He explained what it is to understand the concept of scary good:
“Stay on your toes. Keep your guard up. Stay paranoid.
“(And) preparation. The brilliance is in the basics. If you believe in that, then I think you’ve got a chance of understanding scary good.”
And being it, too.
OUT FOR REVENGE?
The oddity in this game is that two key backups on the New York Giants offence last year – WR Mario Manningham and RB Brandon Jacobs – are now 49ers.
After banging up a knee in camp, Jacobs might be ready to make his Niners debut on Sunday.
Manningham already has enjoyed a greater role in San Francisco. And while he cannot share in his new teammates’ desire to avenge last January’s NFC title-game loss to the Giants, he has not forgotten this. That upon becoming a free agent in March, the Giants let the then four-year man walk away.
“Do I have a grudge? No,” Manningham said. “But, am I motivated? Yeah … Who wouldn’t be?”