The 49ers this season are baffling.
When they play the Giants at the Meadowlands Sunday, will they be the team that went into New Orleans last week and won an overtime thriller? Or will they be the team that fell on its face the two previous games against the Rams and Broncos?
At 5-4, San Francisco has a three-game winning streak sandwiched between a pair of two-game losing streaks.
This week, former Ravens head coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick included the Niners in his list of most enigmatic teams of 2014, along with the 6-4 Steelers, 5-3-1 Bengals and 5-4 Chargers.
“It was hard to find a more reliable contender than the 49ers,” Billick wrote about the team as it headed into 2014. But this season, it’s been a mystery every game as to which team will show up.
The 3-6 Giants, however, watched the film of the 49ers beating the Saints and see a very strong opponent for Sunday’s matchup (10 a.m. PST). Head coach Tom Coughlin sees a defense that is playing well even without standout inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and an offense that can both run and throw.
“I see a team that starts out and declares they’re going to run it,” Coughlin told reporters on a conference call this week. “They’ve done an outstanding job doing that. They’re 10th in the league in run. They have all the play-action passes and empty sets. You can’t be lured to sleep, because they’ve got speed on the outside, they can go up and get the ball. They play various combinations of athletes for specific purposes.
“They have a good, solid, tough two-prong running attack. (Frank) Gore is an outstanding player and has been for many years. (Carlos) Hyde comes in and gives them another change of pace.”
After their early success vs. the Saints last week, when the 49ers leaned on their running game to take a 14-0 lead, it seems likely that San Francisco will again stay with that philosophy vs. the Giants.
Last week, New York’s rush defense gave up 350 yards on the ground to the Seahawks, the most in the NFL in one game since 2012.
A steady dose of Gore and Hyde would seem to be the road for the 49ers to climb up to 6-4. In the victory over the Saints, the 49ers ran for 144 yards, a season high on the road for them in 2014.
Said Gore, to Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com: “The way we played, with me running the ball a lot, showed that’s the way we can rush the ball.”