Coming off a 41-27 shootout win, the New York Giants and their No. 3-passing attack face the league's second-ranked defense when they visit the 49ers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on Sunday.
The 49ers' defense has been particularly strong against the opposing passing games, ranking No. 2 in the NFL in yards per game (181.2). Jim Harbaugh's squad has only conceded a combined 35 points and just three passing touchdowns in their last four games, and having won three of four games in that span.
The key to the 49ers success is their denial of the big play. San Francisco is first in the league in yards allowed per pass (5.8), and have only given up nine plays of 20 or more yards this season.
Such a prolific pass defense could pose problems for quarterback Eli Manning. The nine-year veteran has thrown for 1,579 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, and is third in the NFL with 23 passes for 20 or more yards.
Manning's streak of 24 consecutive games with at least 200 passing yards could be in jeopardy Sunday. It is currently the second-longest streak in NFL history behind Hall of Famer Dan Fouts's 45-game mark.
Receiver Victor Cruz has been Manning’s main target, with 37 receptions for 438 yards and five touchdowns, but his No. 2 option, Hakeem Nicks, has missed three games this season. Nicks did practice this week, but his status is uncertain for Sunday.
Still Manning hasn't missed a beat despite the injuries, finding five receivers for at least 12 catches and 198 yards through five games.
The two NFC titans meet for the first time since last season’s NFC championship game. The Giants advanced to the Super Bowl despite Manning being sacked six times for a loss of 49 yards. New York's offensive linemen are aware that the Giants escaped a close game where they struggled to hold off the 49ers' pass rush.
“That game was certainly something we thought about,” guard Chris Snee
That game may have motivated the Giants offensive line in 2012, as the unit has only surrendered five sacks, which ranks second best in the league.
San Francisco has only forced nine sacks in 2012, but their formidable pass rush, led by linebackers Patrick Willis and team sack-leader Aldon Smith, pose the biggest threat to the Giants offensive line thus far.
“They’re a complete team right now,” guard Kevin Boothe said to the New York Daily News. “They’re firing on all cylinders the last couple of weeks. It’s going to be a great challenge for us to meet and exceed their level of play.”