San Francisco bettered its wide receiver talent following the unit’s embarrassing production in last season’s NFC Championship Game loss to the New York Giants.
The latter enters Sunday’s rematch praying its secondary can finally get better from a medical standpoint.
The injuries that have afflicted a slew of New York Giants cornerbacks and safeties is the main reason for an uncharacteristically low No. 22 pass defense ranking heading into the FOX America’s Game of the Week matchup in San Francisco (4:25 p.m. ET).
The Giants have fielded three of the same four secondary starters (cornerback Corey Webster and safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips) during a 3-2 start. But that doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how badly both first-stringers and reserves are ailing.
Webster is playing with a cast around his broken right hand, severely limiting his chances at interceptions. Phillips (knee) missed Wednesday’s practice. And Rolle told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview that one of his knees isn’t quite right.
“It has been crazy,” Rolle said of the injury epidemic. “I had an incident myself that I’m still trying to deal with and get back to normal.
“It seems like every year there’s something in the secondary. It doesn’t stop. It’s like a domino effect — one after another and another.”
The hits started coming in the offseason when the Giants took a free-agent gamble, allowing Aaron Ross to leave (he signed with Jacksonville) after re-signing Terrell Thomas. This is looking like one of general manager Jerry Reese’s rare missteps. Thomas tore the same anterior cruciate ligament for the second time during the preseason, which may spell the end of his NFL career. The Giants also lost another reserve cornerback in four-year veteran Bruce Johnson.
Prince Amukamara – the 2011 first-round draft pick projected to replace Ross in the starting lineup – suffered a high ankle sprain. Two more cornerbacks (Michael Coe and rookie Jayron Hosley) have missed time with hamstring issues. There also is the four-game suspension of safety Will Hill for an Adderall drug violation announced earlier this week.
Rolle, though, knows nobody wants to hear excuses if the Giants struggle against an improved 49ers passing attack.
“Sometimes it’s not as easy as it should be,” Rolle admitted. “You have to have that chemistry and be on the same page with the other guys. When you have people constantly going down, it’s a constant rotation.
“Sometimes plays should be made based off chemistry and knowing what to expect. We’ve sometimes had holes in that area. It’s made it difficult at times, but as coaches and players, we’re doing the best job we can.”
The 49ers have no sympathy after what happened last January.
During that 20-17 overtime win, New York put a Strangler Lewis-style chokehold on San Francisco’s aerial “attack.” Alex Smith completed only one pass to a wide receiver.
It gained three whole yards.
During the offseason, San Francisco made three notable wideout additions while allowing Josh Morgan (Washington) to leave in free agency. Randy Moss and Mario Manningham – an ex-Giant, no less — were free-agent signings expected to excel immediately; A.J. Jenkins was drafted in the first round for the future.
Manningham has made the most impact with 19 catches for 186 yards and one touchdown. But overall, it’s three returnees who are shining brightest.
Alex Smith leads the NFL in quarterback rating at 108.7.
Yes, that Alex Smith.
His favorite target is Michael Crabtree, another former first-round pick en route to being labeled a bust before last season’s arrival of Jim Harbaugh as head coach.
Oh, and don’t forget about Vernon Davis.
His name sometimes isn’t mentioned in the same breath as New England’s Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham among the league’s elite tight ends. It should be. While his statistics don’t match those notched by the aforementioned duo, Davis is as athletically gifted and capable of posting mad numbers when given the chance.
Proof came in last season’s playoffs. Davis scored the game-winning touchdown as part of a seven-catch, 180-yard effort against New Orleans. He followed that by producing another sick stat line – three receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns – vs. the Giants.
Davis gave a positive review of Rolle’s skills when asked by FOXSports.com but also didn’t forget to mention beating him in man coverage on a 73-yard score.
"He’s pretty good,” Davis said. “I don’t have anything negative to say about him. He can tackle. He can run and he knows football. To me, he’s overall a good player."
Rolle also offered praise for Davis, extinguishing the possibility of another media brouhaha between the two players. After Davis said he was “praying” for New York to defeat Green Bay in the second round, Rolle countered on a radio station by saying, “They better be careful what they ask for because their wish has been granted.”
Rolle then said he assumed Davis was talking about the desire to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs – a fact that was downplayed in favor of juicier headlines.
“This guy can stretch the field,” Rolle said of Davis. “He’s one of the better tight ends in the league. What he does speaks for itself. He’s constantly scoring TDs each and every week.”
Rolle will likely again be assigned the task of insuring Davis won’t do the same against the Giants.
“We’re taking all the confidence in the world into this game,” Rolle said. “That’s what it’s gonna take to win.”