NFL Analysis: Can the San Francisco 49ers Shut Down Eli Manning, New York Giants?

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You have to appreciate the way the New York Giants linemen clog the middle.

Whether it’s three or four with their hands in the soil, they leave the opponent no room for error. Every time Aaron Rodgers handed to a rusher Sunday, for example, behind a Packer line ploughing with all their might, the G-Men were equal to the task. They hit each man with ferocity, stunning them in the process and unnerving the quarterback – sometimes merely by their proximity. It’s a heck of task withstanding New York’s bravado, and certainly most hardened locals wouldn’t have it any other way.

As native Billy Joel once sang, “There’s a storm front coming.” In other words, get outta the way!

This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers defense will also be called into duty, to a battle more savage than the last. The NFL’s No.1 rushing defense will attempt to slow the newly awoken Giants offense, which is now armed – again – with a formidable running game. But this encounter is as much about matching the Giant defensive output as it is shutting down Eli and Co. And if any unit can rival the G-Men tack for tackle, it’s the Niners.

One of the game’s most prolific passers in Drew Brees quickly discovered that last weekend, as he was hurried like a bassist trying to stay in step with Satchmo’s trumpet. The Saints went marching in, but the Niners came marching out.

With Justin Smith ripping through linemen like they’re papier-maché, his perpetual motion impossible to escape, Eli will be on his toes all game. And how about Dashon Goldson and Patrick Willis, lurking about the second level with the type of snarl that makes the timid go to ground? The Niners defense is not only stout, as many writers like to label it, it’s relentless, pestering and anxiety-inducing.

Why would anyone want to play these guys in a sodden Candlestick with a slippery ball, and before a salivating crowd emotionally charged by the return of meaningful football?

For weeks now we’ve been told how good the Saints and Packers offenses are, and yet we know find ourselves closer to the Super Bowl and not a Saint or a Packer in sight. Instead of offense, we await the meeting of two potent defenses in this NFC Championship, a colossal duel between the Big Blue and Big Red. It’ll be a tight contest, I suspect, with each offense nullifying the other in testing conditions.

In the end, this will be resolved by the 49ers defense, which is not only physically energized but mentally clear. Jim Harbaugh seems to have mastered this aspect of coaching, and so I fully expect the Niners to be steely and decisive. They’ll create panic around Manning who’s best chance is to hop away from the rush, sometimes awkwardly so, and look long, in the hope that his talented receivers can outrun the coverage.

Alex Smith and the 49ers offence had its coming out party last week, but when the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay, it’s the 49ers defense that should be difference in this game.

It’ll be easier said than done though, in a setting made for a San Francisco ambush, and yet another turn at the big dance.