Week 5: Top 10 49ers, Giants to watch
A year ago, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning tied his career-worst when he threw five interceptions in the 49ers’ 16-10 victory in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The 49ers return to the Meadowlands for Sunday Night Football with their own quarterback in the worst slump of his career. Colin Kaepernick will be looking to regain his confidence – as well as regain the confidence of his teammates – as the reeling 49ers (1-3) face the Giants (2-2). The 49ers are on a three-game losing streak, while the Giants have won two straight...
10) Michael Wilhoite, LB
Coach Jim Tomsula said the midweek acquisition of inside linebacker Gerald Hodges has nothing to do with the way Wilhoite is playing. But, clearly, the heat is on Wilhoite to play well enough to retain his starting job. Hodges was a starter with the Minnesota Vikings. Wilhoite, in the final year of his contract, has to team up with NaVorro Bowman to be stout on run downs to keep the Giants in third-and-long situations.
9) Rashad Jennings, RB
The 49ers have faced some of the top passing attacks in the NFL in recent weeks. And while they’ve had a difficult time containing Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers, those teams have also gotten production from their running backs. As much as the 49ers are going to focus on the Giants’ passing game, they can’t let Jennings beat them. Jennings has just 134 yards and one touchdown on 42 rushing attempts. The 49ers have surrendered six rushing TDs in four games.
8) Alex Boone, LG
The left side of the 49ers’ offensive line has to set the tone for the offense to enable running back Carlos Hyde to pick up some vital yards in the run game. Hyde’s production has slowed down after his 168-yard game against Minnesota in the opener. Boone has to get push in the run game against Giants defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
7) Brandon Meriweather, SS
The Giants’ defensive strategy will be easy to recognize immediately. Look for No. 22 to line up close to the line of scrimmage as New York will likely stack the box against Hyde and dare the 49ers to beat them through the air. The Giants own the league’s top-ranked run defense but are last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Meriweather, an eight-year NFL veteran, will try to disguise his looks and force Kaepernick into mistakes.
6) Anquan Boldin, WR
The 49ers expect a lot out of Boldin, and he has not delivered. Boldin leads the 49ers with 15 receptions for just 124 yards, but he has to do a better job in all areas. Boldin’s frustrations clearly got the best of him in recent weeks. Kaepernick targeted him on seven pass attempts last week, but Boldin managed just three catches for 12 yards. He could not control his emotions, as he repeatedly showed up his quarterback with bad body language while the 49ers were held to just three points.
5) Jimmie Ward, DB
Ward, the 49ers’ first-round draft pick in 2014, played a career-high 85 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps against the Packers last week. Ward matched up in the slot against Randall Cobb. Ward came through with his best game in the NFL, as he helped limited Cobb to five catches for 44 yards. He even broke up a Rodgers pass in the end zone. The Giants play three receivers 75 percent of the time, which means Ward will again see a lot of action – mostly against Odell Beckham.
4) Eli Manning, QB
Manning has something to prove this week after his disastrous performance against the 49ers last season. Granted, many of the players who victimized him a year ago are gone. That includes linebacker Chris Borland, who recorded two interceptions. Manning has gotten off to another solid start with seven touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 96.4. He’ll be facing a 49ers pass defense that looked much better last week against the Packers.
3) Aaron Lynch, OLB
The 49ers pass-rusher who gets the most attention from defenses is Ahmad Brooks. However, Brooks will not be available to play on Sunday, his agent said. Brooks remains with his family after the death of his sister from lupus. Lynch will have to step up with the focus on him. Lynch has worked his way into good shape after being inactive through most of the offseason while recovering from a back condition. Lynch has three sacks and seven tackles for loss in the first four games.
2) Odell Beckham, WR
The 49ers’ secondary had all kinds of problems against Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald. Now, they go up against a player who has gotten off to the best start of any wide receiver in NFL history. Through his first 16 games, Beckham has 115 receptions for 1,612 yards – more than other receiver through the equivalent of a full season. Beckham also has scored 14 touchdowns. Manning will look to get the ball to Beckham early and often.
1) Colin Kaepernick, QB
Coach Jim Tomsula is careful not to open the door to any quarterback controversy. He wants Kaepernick to go out and play football without looking over his shoulder. Kaepernick has never been scrutinized more than the past two weeks. His 67.7 passer rating ranks 32nd of 34 NFL quarterbacks. “It puts a lot of pressure on these games, right?” 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said. “It puts a lot of pressure on a Sunday night game. Traditionally, Kap has played well in the spotlight.”