Tom Coughlin on Alex Smith: “I think he’s managing the game much better.”

Here’s the transcript of New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin’s Wednesday morning conference call with Bay Area reporters.

Q: What kind of challenges do the 49ers offer for your team?

COUGHLIN: (Laughs) They offer a lot of challenges. You’re talking about a team that’s 7-1, that has outstanding special teams play, defensively they’re ranked in every category you can think of that’s important – points allowed, red zone, they allow only 70 yards a game rushing. They have taken the ball away from the opposition some 19 times. The offensive team is sixth in the league in rushing. They do a great job of setting most of the things up that they do off of some kind of run action. Lots of combinations of personnel, so they cause a lot of concern and require very good preparation.

Q: Are they the kind of team you can really appreciate because of their ability to stop the run and run the ball themselves?

COUGHLIN: Well, you can appreciate that in anyone that does it to the extent that they do.

Q: When you see them bring in that heavy package with the extra offensive linemen, Isaac Sopoaga as a fullback, do you see that in any other teams? Is that unique?

COUGHLIN: No. The extra offensive linemen playing the tight end position – no. When they bring in Sopoaga in addition to the offensive linemen, that’s a different story. I don’t see that much

Q: Do you have to game specifically for that play given how much they’ve used it?

COUGHLIN: Whatever you see on tape you have to prepare for. Whatever combinations of personnel that they use, you have to have a plan for that, and that’s the purpose of doing a lot of the stuff that they do.

Q: Can you offer some reasons as to why you guys have executed so well in the fourth quarter this season?

COUGHLIN: It’s been a primary emphasis for us. It’s been a goal. We wanted to finish stronger. We wanted to play better in the fourth quarter. We wanted to be a team that finish what they started, and we’ve talking about this since the first day that the players arrived, so it has been a matter of emphasis to us and on a number of occasions we’ve been able to do that.

Q: What role has Eli played in that? How have you seen him emerge in the clutch?

COUGHLIN: He’s done an outstanding job in the two-minute offense for most of his career, and he has done extremely well in the fourth quarter, and this year even better in the fourth quarter. When he leads your team 85 and 80 (yard drives) under the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter, he’s done a darn good job.

Q: What do you make of the transformation under Jim Harbaugh, who doesn’t care how many friends he has in this league?

COUGHLIN: Well, I only see his football team, and his football team is well prepared. They play well, they play hard, they’re physical. They do a lot of things very well and they certainly have responded to him. That’s what I see.

Q: When you look at the 49ers defense, who’s the best player?

COUGHLIN: I’m not going to go ranking people. I just think they play well. The reason they’re so good is they play as a unit.

Q: How’s David Baas been and will he play Sunday?

COUGHLIN: David has come in and done a nice job. He’s jumped right in and really been a nice fit for our offensive line. He’s grabbed his lunch pail and he’s gone to work. Now he’s had a couple of nicks, he’s been injured a little bit and that’s a concern for us. He’s come in and he’s learned the system and he’s communicated much better than of course when he first came in here. We knew the experience factor of being able to play with the offensive line that we have was going to be a key here and he’s done a good job with that. The only thing we’ve had any issue with is he has missed a couple of games because injuries.

Q: Will he play Sunday?

COUGHLIN: We do. Barring any setback, we do.

Q: Do you think of this game at all as one for positioning come January?

COUGHLIN: No, I think of this game as the most important game of the year because it’s the next one for us. The 49er game, we prepare for all the coaching jargons you can think of. The one that’s very important to us is the next game.

Q: Is the playoff game from out here in 2003 too long ago to be referenced this week?

COUGHLIN: That hasn’t even crossed my mind. A lot of water under the bridge since that time.

Q: Do you expect Nicks and Bradshaw to play?

COUGHLIN: Well, we’re going to have to see. It’ll be day to day.

Q: Challenges of East Coast teams traveling to the West Coast?

COUGHLIN: We have a style that we use that we have come to find successful and we stick with it. I don’t know if there’s any science behind it. It’s a trip and you do the best you can with it. You prepare yourself the best you can. You do all the things that you have to do to make sure that the flight itself is at least not a negative.

Q: You’re leaving on Saturday?

COUGHLIN: Yes.

Q: How tough is Frank Gore to defend when he can get his yards so many different ways?

COUGHLIN: He’s a tough back to defend, period. He’s five games in a row over 100 yards and a difficult guy to tackle. He’s a very good football player.

Q: What about (rookie fullback) Bruce Miller? What did you make of his first career touchdown?

COUGHLIN: Well, he’s a converted guy that’s done very well in his new job. Obviously, a very, very good play that he made there.

Q: How patient does your defense have to be against a quarterback like Alex Smith who doesn’t throw a lot of high-risk passes.

COUGHLIN: You’ve just to hopefully keep creating down and distance in your favor and do the best you can to defend against the percentages, if you will. When he gets to down-and-distance circumstances that are a little bit in your favor, then you’ve got to do a good job on third down.

Q: You’ve seen him at various points in his career. What is your take on what the difference is in Alex Smith this year versus previous years?

COUGHLIN: I think he’s managing the game much better. He’s more confident. I think he realizes, or believes, it’s his team and he’s played well under his new tutelage. He’s benefited by the style. He’s got a 97 quarterback rating, which is darn good. And he’s playing well. He’s leading his team.

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