Giants must stop 49ers golden pass rush

AP/ESPN Stats & Information

Roll over each icon to see why the 49ers dominate 3+ wide receiver formations.Key matchups to watch for in the NFC Conference Championship will be Eli Manning’s ability to handle the 49ers’ ferocious four-man pass rush and the 49ers’ efforts containing the Giants' explosive receivers. So which team has the edge in this battle for a ticket to Super Bowl XLVI? Let’s take a closer look.

The pass rush

The San Francisco 49ers have a dynamic four-man pass rush and use it often. They sent four or fewer after the quarterback on 80.9 percent of snaps during the regular season, the second-highest rate in the NFL. They held opposing quarterbacks to the third-lowest QBR (49.9) and recorded 31 sacks (t-fourth in NFL) when dropping at least seven into coverage.

The 49ers tighten up even more when the opposing offense substitutes backs and tight ends for receivers. They posted 32 sacks (t-fourth in NFL) in formations that contained at least three wide receivers, with Aldon Smith (13.0), Justin Smith (5.5), Ahmad Brooks (4.0) and Ray McDonald (3.5) combining to record 81.3 percent of them. When sending four or fewer against such formations (83.8 percent of the time), San Francisco boasted the league’s second-lowest opposing QBR (32.8) and third-highest sack total (23).

Eli can hurt defenses with the deep ball

Passing Statistics Explained

Eli Manning was a middle-of-the-pack quarterback this year when facing four or fewer pass rushers. His 64.4 QBR in such situations ranked only 16th among qualified passers, his 19.2 PAA (Points Above Average) ranked 14th, and his 67.1 PAR (Points Above Replacement) ranked 13th.

When Manning was under duress against minimal pass rushes his numbers became even more grim: 26.4 QBR (19th), -4.3 PAA (23rd) and 1.9 PAR (19th).

But given time to throw, Manning can hurt the 49ers, especially when throwing downfield. On throws of 15 yards or more when facing four or fewer pass rushers, Manning boasts a 97.0 QBR (11th), a 27.4 PAA (seventh), and a 39.2 PAR (seventh).

The numbers are even more gaudy when Manning goes deep with his three wide receivers on the field. With three wideouts on the field, Manning led the league in attempts of 15+ yards (96), completions (44), yards (1,234), and the second-most 30-plus yard completions (12).

Victor Cruz led all players in yards (1,064) in three wide receiver formations and was tied for the most 30-plus yard catches (8). NFC Divisional hero Hakeem Nicks recorded the eighth-most receiving yards (726) and five catches of at least 30 yards.

If the New York Giants are able to protect Manning and allow him to connect with his receivers, the 49ers will have a difficult time keeping up with this offense, but if Aldon Smith and company can get to Manning, the Giants could be in for a long day.