Part of the reason the Saints lost to the Niners on Saturday is that their defensive game plan was too simple. They acted as if stopping Frank Gore would stop the entire Niners offense.
They committed eight, nine, sometimes ten defenders to the box to shut down Gore and they left every single receiver in single coverage – even Vernon Davis.
This was a bad strategy. You can’t single cover Vernon Davis – can’t do it.
When the the Niners played the Giants back in Week 10, the Giants defensive strategy was similar – everyone stop Gore. They stopped him – he gained zero yards – but the Niners still won. Smith hit Delanie Walker over and over again with passes and at the end of the game, when the defense finally tried to account for Walker, Smith hit a wide open Vernon Davis for a touchdown.
You can bet that the Giants won’t over-commit to stopping Gore and the rest of the Niners run game – it’s a proven loser strategy against this team.
Here’s my best guess as to how the Giants defense will play the Niners offense – they’ll keep eight defenders in the box on most downs. They’ll double team Vernon Davis at all times. They’ll blitz on second and third and long. And they’ll leave the wide receivers alone in one-on-one coverage.
They will not let Vernon Davis beat them like the Saints did. That would be stupid. They’re going to force Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams beat them.
So, those are the key Niners this weekend. Each one of them is going to have to play his best game of the season for the Niners to win.
Here’s some good news for the offense – Delanie Walker wrote on Twitter that he worked out Sunday and he’s ready to play next weekend. Smith needs a secondary receiver to complement Davis and Walker can be that guy – last time the Niners played the Giants Walker led all Niners with 6 receptions for 69 yards.
One last thought – this may be the perfect game for Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman to bring back the pass plays to Joe Staley and Isaac Sopoaga.
Michael Crabtree is the obvious player you’d expect to step up as a secondary receiver, but he’s got a tough matchup against Corey Webster – a very good cornerback who held Crabtree to just one catch back in Week 10.
The Niners are going to have to be extra creative in the pass game to win this one.