49ers’ Defense Stellar As They Stymie The Giants

reBy: Apurv Baichwal

–NEW YORK

Today, playing in his home stadium in the Big Apple in front of a sellout crowd, Eli Manning was absolutely terrible. The 49ers, on the other hand, actually played rather well, as their defense was stellar and their offense was good enough to grant them the win. Today they won 16-10, although the game never truly felt that close, as seemed to be completely unable to get a solid drive going without Eli Manning throwing an interception. All together, on the day, he threw a whopping five interceptions, making the Giants’ offense pretty stagnant, and the 49ers’ defense exemplary.

This game opened up with a 49er drive where the offense looked extremely solid and well-balanced. With seven rushing plays and four passing plays, the 49ers were able to work their way all the way down the field to the New York 16 yard line. However, once they got there, the usually sure-handed Frank Gore actually fumbled the ball, losing the 49ers a chance for an easy score. Here’s a Vine of the pretty unusual fumble that involved a Frank Gore trip, slip, and fall:

Although this fumble did not end up costing the 49ers in the game, it was still a huge surprise, as Frank Gore almost never fumbles the ball. In fact, this fumble was his first of the season, and it is very possible that it will be his last, simply because he has averaged 2.5 fumbles per season in his last four. Frank the Tank is called a tank for a reason: he is strong and sturdy. So, the 49ers coaches and their fans should put this fumble behind them if they have not already, as Gore is still a stellar running back and the workhorse for the 49ers.

After the 49ers drive was stopped short on Gore’s fumble, the Giants scored their first and only touchdown of the day on a pretty beautiful drive. They drove down the field in five plays and finished with a touchdown pass to their tight end Larry Donnell. After this score, the Giants were up 7-0, and it looked like they were controlling the game. However, the 49ers quickly responded with a field goal on their next possession, after a similarly long drive that fortunately ended in points this time. The Niners then forced the Giants to punt to end the first quarter, going into the second down 7-3.

The second quarter, as opposed to the first, was an amazing quarter for the 49ers. The only issue for the 49ers this entire quarter was that they were not able to actually punch the ball into the end zone; they repeatedly settled for field goals, a theme of this game. However, back to the positive, the 49ers opened up the second quarter with a drive and a Phil Dawson 37-yard field goal. On the Giants next possession, the defense put a quick stop to the Giants’ offense, as rookie linebacker Chris Borland recorded his first career interception. This pick came when he jumped the ball on a short route, and he ran it back 12 yards until he was tackled. He has been stellar in his last two games for the 49ers, recorded eighteen and seventeen tackles in the last two games, respectively. Essentially, he has been a beast on the field filling in for the injured Patrick Willis, who will not be returning this season. Fortunately, as we said last week, he is a great fill in, and is currently playing at a Pro Bowl level. Below is a Vine of Borland’s interception of Eli Manning:

After this interception, the 49ers ran a short drive, but were once again unable to get the ball into the end zone, settling again for a field goal. However, with this score they did take a 9-7 lead. Then, in an episode of déjà-vu, Eli Manning threw his second interception on his next drive, this time a short pass to the right literally intended for nobody except 49ers’ linebacker Michael Wilhoite, who caught the ball and ran it back one yard. Here’s a vine of that pick:

After this interception, the 49ers were once again unsuccessful on offense, not gaining any points this time. They took their 9-7 lead into halftime with another fruitless possession by each team.

Finally, in the third quarter, the 49ers managed to get the ball in the end zone for their first and last time of the game.  On the third play of the drive, Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree on a post route, which he ran 36 yards into the end zone for a huge touchdown. This touchdown, which you can watch below (albeit in a very low quality Vine), gave the 49ers a 16-7 lead, and all the points they would need to win the game.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, the Giants responded to their touchdown with a field goal, cutting the lead to 16-10, and meaning that a Giants touchdown would give them a win, with the extra point. In a surprise play, the Giants actually decided to kick an onside kick in the third quarter after this score. Even more surprisingly, they caught the 49ers off guard and were successful in regaining possession. This play looked like a huge momentum change, as the Giants had just earned a free possession. Fortunately for the 49ers, however, Eli Manning continued his awful play and threw a deep interception to second-year safety Eric Reid on another ball that really wasn’t intended for any receiver. In the stat books, this throw was supposedly intended for Reuben Randle, but there was an obvious miscommunication, and Eli Manning made a poor decision and still let the ball fly, resulting in a pick to end the drive. Here’s a link to that pick:

Eli Manning’s Third Interception

After another long 49ers offensive drive, they once again ended fruitless, this time because Andy Lee fumbled the snap on the field goal attempt, meaning that they could not get the kick off. Instead Lee tried to salvage the play by throwing the ball, but it was an incomplete pass, turning the ball over on downs. So, the score stayed 16-10, even after each side had an extremely promising drive.

About halfway through the fourth quarter, Eli Manning threw his fourth interception of the game. This one came on a short pass to the left, as Eli Manning attempted the throw while being hit by Aaron Lynch. This time veteran cornerback Chris Culliver came up with the pick, falling on the ball to secure it. Here’s a link to Manning’s fourth pick of the game:

Eli Manning’s Fourth Interception

The 49ers were unsuccessful on offense after this pick, as was the theme through the game, and they punted the ball to the Giants. Here, however, the game got really interesting, as the Giants got extremely close to scoring. The Giants got the ball all the way down to the 49ers four yard line, and they and a first and goal from this spot. Fortunately for the 49ers, Eli Manning was still awful, and he threw three incomplete passes in a row. These three incompletions left the Giants with a decision to make on fourth and goal at the 49ers’ four yard line. With 4:50 to go and down by six, the Giants chose to go for the touchdown like most teams would. Oddly, the Giants’ coaches seemed not to learn from the four interceptions Manning had thrown, and the last three incomplete passes, and they put the ball in his hands to try to throw for the touchdown. Following the theme of the game, he tried to force the ball into a spot that simply was not open. This pass was intended for wide receiver and return specialist Preson Parker, but it was knocked away by cornerback Dontae Johnson. In a seriously lucky play, the tip went up, and rookie linebacker Chris Borland managed to get under the ball and snag it for his second interception of the day at the two-yard line. You can watch that pretty stellar pick below:

Together, Johnson and Borland saved the 49ers’ win, as that one play stopped the Giants drive, in a situation where they could have taken the lead. Each team had one possession after this, but neither did anything much, allowing the game to end with a 49ers win and a final score of 16-10.

On an interesting side note, Chris Borland is the second 49ers’ linebacker to record two interceptions in a single game in 40 years, with the company of Ken Norton Jr. from 1995. He is also the only 49ers rookie to ever grab two picks in one game. Finally, Chris Borland has 45 tackles on the season, including 13 today, which ties him for fifth among all rookies, but he has achieved this great number on only 200 snaps. Overall, Chris Borland has been amazing for the 49ers, filling in admirably for one of the best linebackers in the game. He’s a great rookie, and he should continue his development into a perennial Pro Bowl linebacker.

Now for some statistics from today:

The offense picked up 333 yards, a somewhat respectable number, but a low one all the same. Colin Kaepernick threw for 193 yards and one touchdown on 15 of 29 passes. He played pretty poorly, especially in the red zone, where he never managed to score a touchdown today. All together, the 49ers had four red zone trips: two of them resulted in field goals, and two of them resulted in no points. This number is unacceptable, and if the defense hadn’t carried the team with timely interceptions, the 49ers would have lost. They need to clean up their offense quickly, as they are in a good position to make the playoffs now, but they will need to capitalize on red zone opportunities and score in the future.

The rushing attack was actually pretty good today, as Frank Gore rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries, for a stellar 5.0 yards per carry clip. Those numbers are really good, and the only things that could have brightened his day would have been a touchdown or to have not fumbled. In the backup role, rookie running back Carlos Hyde had a pretty heavy workload of nine carries, but was only able to make 25 yards out of them including his longest run of the game of only seven yards. Finally, Kaepernick carried the ball eight times for 24 yards, but that number includes his long of sixteen yards. Together, however, the rushing attack was quite good, picking up 148 yards on 37 carries for a 4.0 yards per carry. One note for the total is it includes Vernon Davis’s one rushing attempt for four yards on a toss that was scored as a running play rather than a passing one.

Michael Crabtree was the only receiver who had a good game, as he finished with 85 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. His problem was that he was targeted eight times, so the completion rate was pretty awful. His day also only looks this good due to his 48 yard touchdown play. Anquan Boldin actually probably played better than Crabtree as he caught five of his six targets, but he only got 53 yards, as he mainly worked as a possession receiver. One good thing is that Kaepernick knows that he has a lot of weapons who can catch the ball, and he is really good at spreading the ball out to keep defenses guessing. For example, he attempted passes to nine different people today, meaning that defenses cannot target a single receiver and shut the offense down. The only issue is Kaepernick was rushing his throws today, and he was not very accurate, the main reason for his low completion rate of 15 for 29.

The offense needs to improve from this week, but the team still managed a win, which is all that matters at this point. The defense was stellar, although a lot of credit needs to be given to Eli Manning’s awful throws.

With this win, the 49ers’ record becomes 6-4. Also, with the reigning champion Seattle Seahawks struggling mightily this year, the 49ers are actually tied with them for second place in the NFC West. Currently, however, with the Arizona Cardinals leading the entire NFL with a 9-1 record, it is highly unlikely that the 49ers win the division. Even so, they could get into the playoffs from a wildcard spot if they just continue to win some games. Right now, they are a game back of both the Cowboys and the Packers in the wild card chase, but the 49ers have a better schedule ahead. Next Sunday, at 1:25 PST, the 49ers will take on Washington, who is 3-7, at home. This game should be an easy win for the 49ers, as long as they don’t completely forget how to play football. Hopefully, they can grab a win next week, because every game is going to count in the chase for playoff spots.

Cover Image: By Marianne O’Leary (Flickr: Eli Manning is back to pass in warm ups.) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Follow me on Twitter: @abaichwal