San Francisco faces hot Giants, who have Strahan, Nolan's former pupil

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When Michael Strahan looks across the field at the San Francisco sideline this weekend, the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end is going to see the man who helped make him the NFL's active leader in sacks: 49ers coach Mike Nolan.

The Giants defensive coordinator in 1996, Nolan and coach Dan Reeves decided to move Strahan from right end to the left side because of injuries in training camp.

"He hated it," Nolan recalled earlier this week as the 49ers (2-3) prepared to play the streaking Giants (4-2) today. "He was mad at everyone, but he quickly changed his mind."

The change transformed Strahan from an average end into one of the most dominant in the game.

After registering 13 sacks in his first three seasons, Strahan had five in his first year at left end and then jumped to 14 in 1997, the most by a Giant since Lawrence Taylor had 15 in 1989. He had 15 the following year and set the NFL single-season mark with 22½ in 2001.

"I love Mike Nolan," Strahan said. "I'll play for Mike Nolan in a heartbeat. I loved him when he was here. He gave me my shot, threw me in there. ... It was like sink or swim."

Strahan was drafted by New York in 1993 and Nolan said there were no guarantees in his first two seasons that he would be successful. Nolan said the former star from little Texas Southern had some technique problems on the right side that he had trouble correcting.

"He was a fish out of water on the right side, so we moved him on to left," Nolan said. "It showed very quickly that he was going to be a very good player at that point."

Now in his 15th season, Strahan has 1½ sacks for 134 in his career. He also is part of a defensive front four that has hounded opposing quarterbacks in the Giants' four-game winning streak.

During the run, New York has had 19 sacks, including 12 against Philadelphia on Sept. 30 and four against Atlanta last Monday night.

The 49ers, last in the NFL in total offense, have given up 18 sacks. Nolan also is going to start the less-mobile Trent Dilfer at quarterback this week with Alex Smith still coming back from a shoulder injury.

If that isn't bad enough, Nolan also faces the prospect of starting rookie tackle Joe Staley against the 35-year-old Strahan.

That's life in the NFL, Nolan said, adding he thinks Staley is going to be a good player.

"I think it will be a good test for him, and a good challenge for him," Nolan said. "Michael's not only a good player physically, Michael plays a very intelligent game, as evidenced by his record for most sacks. His intelligence has given him a lot of it, not just ability."

After giving up 80 points in the first two games, the Giants have allowed 54 points in the last four. Fourteen of those came on an offensive turnover and a kickoff return.

San Francisco has done little on offense. The 49ers, coming off a bye week, have scored 63 points. Frank Gore, who rushed for almost 1,700 yards last season, has been limited to 306 yards on 84 carries.

Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora downplays the numbers. He remembers that Gore is a former Pro Bowler who is dangerous.

"You are a fool to take them for granted like they can't come in here and beat us," Umenyiora said. "They can come in here and beat us. We will prepare for them like they are the No. 1 team in the NFL, like we prepare every week. You can't really afford to take anybody for granted. We are 4-2; we are not 6-0."

Gore said that during the bye week the 49ers said the best way to end their three-game losing streak was to stick together.

"What we said in our meetings, we have to take it over to the game," Gore said. "Just believe in everybody and trust. I think we can get on the same page."

The 49ers will have to come up with a big defensive effort to stop the Giants, who rank sixth in the NFL in total offense and points per game (25.6).