Prior to the 2011 season special teams play had been an issue for New York for several years. This season, the special teams units were hardly spectacular. They were, however, not spectacular failures, either. For the Giants, that amounted to a huge improvement.
Punter Steve Weatherford was signed as a free agent after being let go by the New York Jets, and had the best overall season of his six-year career. He averaged a career-best 45.7 yards per punt and his net average of 39.2 was a huge improvement over a season ago when the Giants net average was 34.3 with Matt Dodge punting.
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Placekicker Lawrence Tynes made 19-of-24 field goals this season, an unspectacular 79 percent. Tynes, notoriously bad on kickoffs, took advantage of the new rule moving kickoff up to the 35-yard line and saw a solid 43 percent of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.
The Giants' primary difficulty on special teams has been in the return game. During the regular season the Giants were 29th in the league returning punts, with a 6.1 yards per return average. They were one of only two teams not to have any returns of 20 yards or more. The Giants are averaging just 5.6 yards on five returns in the playoffs.
The Giants were adequate on kickoff returns during the regular season as Da'Rel Scott, Devin Thomas and Jerrel Jernigan combined to average 23.3 yards, 20th in the league. Jernigan, a rookie, is now the primary return man.
Special teams is an area where San Francisco excels. The 49ers have a pair of All-Pro kickers in punter Andy Lee and placekicker David Akers. They have a dangerous return man in Ted Ginn (12.3 yards per punt return, 27.6 yards per kickoff return.
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Lee averaged league bests in yards per punt (50.9) and net yards per punt (44.0). Akers made 44-of-52 kicks (85 percent) and had 50.5 percent of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.
Advantage: 49ers ... For the Giants the key in the special teams matchup on Sunday is not to win it. It is simply not to get hurt by San Francisco in this phase of the game.