You won’t see him pitching insurance in TV ads and he’s not in the running for NFL MVP, but Alex Smith certainly has the Giants’ attention.
He also has their respect. So it’s not as if they will take the San Francisco quarterback lightly when the 49ers host the Giants on Sunday in the NFC title game.
Certainly Smith’s performance against New Orleans last Saturday was an eye-opener to many. Not only did Smith go 24-for-42 for 299 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, but he engineered the game-winning drive. He moved the 49ers 85 yards in only 1:09.
Giants safety Antrel Rolle wasn’t surprised.
“I played against Alex Smith two times a year when I was in Arizona,” he said, “so I’m fully aware of his capabilities as a quarterback. I’ve never underestimated him and I think he’s a great quarterback. He’s going to continue to get better under (coach) Jim Harbaugh. (Harbaugh) is going to work with (Smith), and (Harbaugh) is a quarterback himself, so he’s going to continue to make him better. We have our (work) cut out for us this week and we understand that.”
The Giants were able to rattle Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his receivers with their physicality.
They sacked Rodgers four times in their upset win over the defending Super Bowl champs and harassed him into a very un-Rodgers-like 78.5 passer rating.
But Rodgers led the Packers in rushing that day with 66 yards. Smith had a 28-yard touchdown against the Saints in his only rushing attempt, but the Giants don’t expect him to scramble as much as Rodgers.
“He is a great athlete as far as running the ball and throwing the ball,” Rolle said, but added, “I can promise you one thing, he won’t run the ball too much.”
Smith might not have to if tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore play the way they did against New Orleans. Davis had seven receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
Gore rushed for 89 yards on 13 carries and also had seven receptions for 38 yards. Davis (61 yards) and Gore (24) accounted for all of the receiving yards on the decisive drive.
Defensive tackle Chris Canty said Davis “presents a lot of challenges for each level of the defense, from the defensive line, from a blocking standpoint, to the linebackers and secondary in coverage.”
According to Giants tight end Bear Pascoe, the best way to stop a tight end as good as Davis is to “just get inside of his head and jam him at the line the best you can and never really let him get started. Never let him get in his game.
“If you can pester him all the way through the game and get inside the game, I think you’ll be all right.”
As for Gore, Canty said, “That’s our first priority – to stop the run game. And obviously they’re planning on giving us a heavy dose of that.
“And we’ll be ready for that.”
Gore had zero yards on six carries in the 49ers’ 27-20 victory over the Giants on Nov. 13 before leaving the game with a knee injury. He is much healthier now.
“We’ve got to stop the run to (be able to) rush the passer,” defensive end Dave Tollefson said Friday, “and that’s what (the Giants’ defensive tackles) do a good job of.”
“We have to put them in long down-and-distance situations,” Canty said, “so we can give our pass rush an opportunity.”
And this gives the Giants a much better opportunity to win.