Odell Beckham (left) has a dream matchup with 49ers cornerback Kenneth Acker in one on one coverage. If the 49ers can't get Carlos Hyde (right) rolling in the run game, it could be another long day for Colin Kaepernick.
The Week 5 matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants is game of two teams currently headed in opposite directions.
The Giants are riding a two-game winning streak, and their last victory was an impressive win on the road against a tough Buffalo Bills team. The 49ers have lost three games in a row after an impressive regular season opener. Giants quarterback Eli Manning is playing arguably the best football of his career, while 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick continues to show signs of regression from his rookie season.
Here are three keys to the game for both the 49ers and Giants.
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1. Feed Carlos Hyde early and often
San Francisco’s only win was forged on the legs of Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 carries in a season-opening victory versus Minnesota. Hyde’s production and workload have taken a dramatic dip during the team’s tailspin – he has rushed for a combined 114 yards on 34 carries during the three-game skid and bottomed out last week with season lows of 20 yards and eight rushing attempts. Even though the Giants rank No. 1 against the run, the Niners need to find a way to take pressure off beleaguered quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
2. Avoid the early knockout
Among the reasons for the ground game’s struggles is the way San Francisco has been steamrolled early in each of its two road losses at Pittsburgh and Arizona in Weeks 2 and 3. The Steelers built a 29-3 halftime lead over the 49ers while the Cardinals were up 14-0 less than six minutes into the game en route to a 31-7 cushion at the break, forcing San Francisco to play catch-up. Hyde saw limited duty in the 49ers’ 16-10 win at New York back in 2014, a game in which starting running back ran for 95 yards on 19 attempts.
3. Check the body language at the door
Wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith openly showed their frustration with their diminishing roles in the passing attack and Kaepernick’s wayward tosses in last weekend’s 17-3 home loss to Green Bay. Boldin, a 12-year veteran who has only five receptions for 28 yards over the past two weeks, declined to speak to the media after the same. Smith, a free-agent import from the Baltimore Ravens, was invisible for most of last week’s game until a late 47-yard reception and apologized afterward, admitting his body language "was horrible at times."
1. Attack the 49ers vertically
The 49ers enter Week 5 with one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. With Aldon and Justin Smith no longer a part of the defensive front, they are generating very little pressure. In the secondary, the 49ers have not found a solution for replacing Chris Culliver — their top cornerback in 2014. The 49ers will be without starting edge rusher Ahmad Brooks in this game, and that gives the Giants more reason to call several deep passing plays. With more time to throw, Manning should be able to dial up the deep ball and make a few big plays to wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle and Dwayne Harris.
2. Shut down Carlos Hyde and the 49ers run game first
In the 49ers’ only win this season, they established the tempo of the game by dominating on the line of scrimmage via the run game and Carlos Hyde. No team has allowed less yards than the Giants (69.8) on a per game basis, and part of this has to do with the outstanding play against the run from left defensive end Kerry Wynn. The 49ers enter the game ranked fifth in rushing with 130.3 yards per game, so you know that they’ll want to establish this aspect of their offense early. If the Giants put extra defenders in the box to force Kaepernick to throw the ball down the field, good things will come of it.
3. Get Odell Beckham Jr. involved
The 49ers no longer have a premier cornerback on the roster, and it has shown. The Giants like to move Beckham around the formation, but he has played his highest percentage of snaps — 41 percent — at left wide receiver. If the Giants keep him there for an even greater percentage in Week 5, they will be rewarded. 49ers right cornerback Kenneth Acker has struggled all season. According to Pro Football Focus, only 11 cornerbacks have earned a worse pass coverage grade than Acker.