Asked to analyze the New York Giants’ running game, San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman provided a one-word answer.
"Ahmad," he said.
Bowman was talking about Ahmad Bradshaw, who rushed for 200 yards and one touchdown in last Sunday’s 40-24 victory over Cleveland.
An impressive performance, no doubt. But during the FOX America’s Game of the Week on Sunday between New York and the host 49ers (4:25 p.m. ET), Bradshaw will be trying to duplicate that effort against two inside linebackers who have made quite a name for themselves.
Bowman and inside linebacker Patrick Willis are key components on a defense whose success stuffing the run has played a pivotal part in San Francisco’s success since Jim Harbaugh became head coach in 2011.
The fact Bowman has garnered significant attention starting alongside Willis — who arguably is the NFL’s top player at the position — speaks volumes about his own career. A 2010 third-round draft pick from Penn State, Bowman is on pace to lead the 49ers in tackles for a second consecutive season. He has 58 through five games, putting him on pace for a staggering 186 for the entire season. That would top the total of 173 he posted in 2011.
Bowman told FOXSports.com that having Willis as a teammate is “something I cherish every single day.”
“Even being compared or mentioned in the same sentence is really an honor,” Bowman said. “I just think we really put the work in to bring out the best in both of us and for people to say we’re the best. We don’t get complacent at all.”
The 49ers can’t be complacent against Bradshaw or risk getting gashed like the Browns. Bradshaw was one of New York’s most productive offensive players in last season’s 20-17 victory in the NFC Championship Game. He helped the Giants run the clock with 20 carries for 74 yards, and added 52 more yards on six receptions.
With the Giants letting Brandon Jacobs leave to San Francisco in free agency during the offseason, and 2012 first-round pick David Wilson being slow to develop, Bradshaw has the best chance to showcase his skills as a workhorse rusher since being drafted in 2007.
“He’s quick and he finds a way to get through those small cracks,” Bowman said of Bradshaw. “Their o-line’s not bad. They do a good job of playing together.”
The outing against Cleveland was the best of the season for Bradshaw, who was forced to miss a Week 3 victory over Carolina after suffering a neck injury the previous game against Tampa Bay. Bradshaw, though, believes he could have tallied even bigger numbers.
“We left a lot of plays on the field,” Bradshaw told Giants media on Thursday. “We could have ended up with 250, maybe 300 (yards). I’m never satisfied.”
Realistically, Bradshaw has no shot of posting those types of numbers against San Francisco. But the 49ers did prove vulnerable when surrendering an uncharacteristic 146 rushing yards during a Week 3 loss at Minnesota.
Even decent production from the ground game Sunday will keep the Giants from having to rely too heavily on the Eli Manning-led passing attack.
“They’re physical, they’re strong, they set blocks better than anybody in the league,” Bradshaw said of the 49ers. “They hit people up front and they come back to the ball. If the ball gets past them, they make plays downfield, even the big guys. They never quit, they never stop.”
Bradshaw then added, “We’re up for the task. I think we’ll be fine.”
Bowman is anxious to prove otherwise, especially with revenge from last year’s NFC title game another motivating factor entering Sunday’s rematch.
“The Giants do a good job mixing it up,” he said. “One drive they may set up the pass, but another drive they may establish the run a lot more and try to beat you over the top. You have to be ready for pretty much anything.
“Besides, they’re defending Super Bowl champs. You know they’re good.”
On Sunday, Bowman will be trying to prove the 49ers are better.