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Line Play Will Seal Giants Fate on Sunday

The road to the Super Bowl starts up front

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Canty will be a key player for the Giants on Sunday afternoon.

    If you've watched any football at all in your life, you're probably sick of hearing pundits opine that football is a game that is won or lost in the trenches.

    After all, we now live in a world where quarterbacks throw for 5,000 yards without batting an eye and it usually seems like nickelbacks have more to do with the outcome of games than defensive tackles.

    There's a reason why things become cliches, though, and this Sunday's game should be a reminder of why people make such a big deal about the play on the line of scrimmage.

    At this point in the season, we are well aware of what Eli Manning can do. Continuing to ask questions about his ability to shred defenses makes about as much sense as taking the BQE during rush hour.

    There's also not much point in making a big deal about how the Giants rush the passer, because we know they can rush the passer and we know that if they fail to do that job for any reason it will spell doom for a secondary that hasn't played well when forced to carry the load.

    These are the knowns as the Giants head to San Francisco. It makes much more sense to focus on the unknowns and that leads us to the offensive and defensive lines.

    As we said, Manning can shred anybody at any time. The only thing that could stop him from making plays down the field is a pass rush that makes it impossible for him to find his receivers.

    While it is true that the line has played a bit better in recent weeks, that doesn't mean that they have played well enough to feel confident about them in a matchup with the 49ers' front seven.

    Of particular concern is how well they will be able to handle the stunts that San Francisco uses to great effect because they will force Kevin Boothe, who hasn't been challenged much since moving into the starting lineup, to block Justin Smith when he moves inside.

    Smith dominated everyone the Saints put in his path last week and that included rushes from the outside, so David Diehl will also have his hands full. Kareem McKenzie will have the rookie Aldon Smith to deal with on occasion and Ahmad Brooks comes from a lot of different places so, really, no one can have a bad day.

    If the Giants line can hold up, Manning should make a ton of plays. If the Giants need to keep backs and tight ends in to help block, though, the Niners will be able to do a better job on Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz and further stifle the Giants' offensive attack.

    One final note on this front deals with attempts to scheme around the 49ers: Going three-wide has been a bad move for 49ers opponents this season as it has led to 32 San Francisco sacks. The Giants are better when they spread out defenses, but they can't do that if the offensive line struggles on Sunday.

    When the Niners have the ball, the attention will shift to the middle of the Giants defensive line. Chris Canty, Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard have to limit the 49ers' run game as much as possible in order to make the rest of the Giants defense as successful as possible.

    While the Niners have a creative running game, you have to believe that the Giants' athleticism on the edge will be enough to keep anything from getting out of hand when San Francisco tries to get outside.

    You need to contain Frank Gore between the tackles, where the Niners have mauling guards, in order to put everything else in motion.

    If you stop the Niners running game, you'll force obvious passing situations and allow the pass rush to pin its ears back to attack Alex Smith. You'll also allow Perry Fewell to put special attention on Vernon Davis, which is essential because the 49ers wide receivers aren't good enough to win individual battles on the outside. 

    But if the 49ers can run the ball consistently, Fewell will have no choice other than playing a more traditional alignment with three tight ends. That will mean putting a linebacker on Davis and that could lead to disaster for the Giants.

    They lost those battles in the first game between the teams and there's no reason to think it would be different this time around. The key is avoiding them, which means stoning the Niners on the ground from the outset and making them play to your strengths on defense.

    In a game between two teams that appear as closely matched as the Giants and 49ers, the team that bends the game to its will is going to have a massive advantage. These two places are where the Giants can do that most effectively and doing so will pave the road to Indianapolis.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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