Heading into this past Sunday's NFC Conference Championship game, the New York Giants plotted out a very special strategy for attacking San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams – beat him into the ground.
It worked to perfection.
After San Francisco’s 20-17 loss, most of the approximately 57 million people who watched the game walked away with the impression that Williams was clearly at fault for what happened. Having both muffed a punt early in the game and then fumbled the ball away to the Giants on what would eventually be their game-winning possession, there wasn’t much room for ambiguity when blame was getting apportioned to various players.
And the fact that he was the only guy getting death threats come Sunday eve pretty much reaffirmed his culpability.
What folks didn’t pay as much attention to, though, was the other side of that equation. Yes, the Giants destroyed Williams – but why? Why did they have as much success as they did against him? According to Benjamin Wallace-Wells of New York Magazine, the answer to that question is quite simple.
They did their homework.
As per Wallace-Wells’ report:
After the game, reporters crowded around the locker of Jacquian Williams, who'd forced the second fumble, hoping for an angle: Had the Giants noticed something about Kyle Williams's technique, some weakness in the 49ers punt-return scheme? "Nah," Williams said. "The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him outta the game."
Devin Thomas, the reserve wide receiver who recovered both of Kyle Williams's fumbles, was even more explicit. “He’s had a lot of concussions," Thomas told the Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi. "We were just like, ‘We gotta put a hit on that guy.’ ... [Giants reserve safety Tyler] Sash did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up.”
The revelation is gruesome, clearly, but not especially surprising. Targeting players with specific injuries -- be it head or body -- is commonplace in football and something that coaches put special emphasis on in weekly preparation. Every player with an injury knows that whatever they hurt earlier is fair game in the next outing, and every coach knows that their player’s injuries will be used against regardless of public perception.
Of course, despite the fact that this is all common knowledge, players don’t usually so brazenly state their intentions to the media. That’s where, as Wallace-Wells noted, Giants players being in the “happy haze of the winning locker room” came into play.