49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

November 10, 2011
Can Giants "big nickel" stop No. 21?


Many 49ers likely remember the term, "big nickel." This was a defensive scheme that Mike Nolan liked when he was the coach here, one that replaced a linebacker with a safety and which is designed to give defenses an advantage against passing teams. That's often what the New York Giants use as their base defense - five defensive backs, three of them safeties - and it's what NFL Films' Greg Cosell sees as an intriguing component of Sunday's game. Here's what Cosell told Murph & Mac on KNBR this morning:

GC: "I'm going to be very anxious top see if they stay with that, guys, because of what the 49ers do - a lot of tight ends, sometimes six offensive linemen, sometimes (Isaac) Sopoaga in the game as a blocker. It's a team that plays a lot of big people. So I'm anxious to see if the Giants stay with what's essentially their base defense concept."

BM: Maybe that's right. The Giants are going have to decide whether they stick with the girl that brung 'em or risk getting beat by Gore.

GC: "Every week I've been telling you what a good job Jim Harbaugh and his staff do. And you saw the touchdown pass to Bruce Miller this week, another great example of a play that's kind of an unconventional play. I mean, Bruce Miller's a converted defensive end from Central Florida and he runs a wheel route for a touchdown. It's a great call because it's essentially a one-read throw for Alex Smith and breaks down the defense. They're doing these kinds of things really, really well and having success with them."

BM: What can the Giants do to crack this defense that seems to be getting better and more confident by the week?

GC: "Well, I'm going to be anxious on this side of the ball as well because I believe Hakeem Nicks, a really good receiver, will be back. It will be interesting to me to see if the Giants play more three-wide receiver to get to the (49ers') nickel sub package and try to throw the football. The Giants have not had a consistent run game at all, and I don't think that they're going to be able to run at all against that base, 3-4 front seven. The Giants o-line and their running game have not been good enough to be able to run the ball against that defense. So that's a real intriguing matchup as well."

BM: Eli Manning - how do you think he's been playing? Because he gets the headlines for that fourth-quarter comeback in New England.

GC: "It's funny you talk about that. And when you watch every play you see things. One of the safeties on the Patriots basically dropped an easy interception on that drive. So if he doesn't drop it, we'd be having a totally different conversation. That's why you have to look at every play. But I think for the most part Eli has played well. He's a solid, professional quarterback. He's not turned the ball over this year. They ask him to do an awful lot at the line of scrimmage with audibles and checks. He basically controls the run game at the line of scrimmage. There's been a big debate. I don't know if you've seen it, it's an east-coast debate about whether he's elite, which is one of those terms, I guess, that every one has a different view of that. But he's a very solid player."

GC in closing: "We say this every week, but the running game is absolutely critical for (the 49ers). If they can't run it, they're going to have a tough time against this Giants defense. Because the one thing about this d-line - they rush the quarterback really well. And if you put Alex Smith in third and seven or eight and nine, it won't be Alex Smith necessarily, it will be the o-line that might not be able to hold up against that pass rush."

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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