Coming off of a resounding victory 11 days ago against the Raiders, the 49ers are looking to defeat another lowly opponent — the New York Giants.
The Giants enter this contest at 1-7, while the 49ers are slightly ahead at 2-7, so I fully expect a barn burner on Monday Night Football. Many expected New York to be a lot better under new head coach Pat Shurmur, with the addition of running back Saquon Barkley and with the return of a healthy wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
However, the Giants have been inept so far this season, struggling to score on offense and stop opposing teams on defense. In comes second-year quarterback Nick Mullens, who impressed 49ers’ coaches and fans with his play on Thursday Night Football against the Raiders.
The 49ers will be without linebacker Reuben Foster (hamstring), wideout Pierre Garçon (knee) and safety Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) on Monday, so the challenge of a second-straight victory only gets more difficult. Here are some keys for another home victory over the Giants.
1. Slow down the Giants’ superstars, RB Saquon Barkley and WR Odell Beckham Jr
New York is going to go as far as Barkley and Beckham Jr. take them this season. By far, they are the two best players on the roster and will need to be highly impressive week in and week out for the Giants to even have a chance against their opponents.
Barkley is a true dual-threat running back, gaining at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game. The former Penn State tailback has two 100-yard rushing games, but also has three games of nine receptions and one game with 14 catches.
The Giants use Barkley in multiple looks and line him up all over the formation. Without Foster or Tartt on Monday, the challenge is going to fall squarely on rookie linebacker Fred Warner’s shoulders to cover Barkley in space.
On the outside, Beckham Jr. is likely going to present major challenges to corners Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon on Monday. One of the best wideouts in the NFL, Beckham Jr. hasn’t had as productive of a season, primarily due to quarterback Eli Manning’s struggles.
This season, Beckham Jr. has caught 61 passes for 785 yards, well on pace to break his career highs, but he’s only caught two touchdowns so far this season. During his first three years, he caught 12, 13 and 10 touchdowns respectively, but isn’t on pace to reach those numbers this season.
If the 49ers can take both of these players out of their rhythm on Monday — an extremely difficult challenge — the changes of a win increase exponentially.
2. QB Nick Mullens continues his “Mullens’ Magic” from last week
The biggest difference in the 49ers’ win and losses since quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got injured was the quarterback play. C.J. Beathard was very tentative and playing scared, while Mullens was confident and moved the offense up and down the field.
Now that Mullens has tasted some success in the NFL, his biggest challenge lies ahead of him: sustaining that level of play for multiple games. We’re also about to find out if Mullens and the 49ers’ offense is really that productive or the Raiders’ defense is that pathetic.
After having an efficient game, Mullens will need to continue that theme on Monday. His pre-snap reads against the Raiders were spot-on, allowing him to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball immediately.
The Giants’ passing defense should be much better than the Raiders’, as they’re ranked 13th in terms of yards per attempt (7.4). New York also employs more talent in the back end of that defense, primarily spear-headed by former Alabama standout Landon Collins.
If Mullens can manage to protect the ball, make safe throws and hit the occasional home run, the 49ers’ offense should be able to score enough to overcome the Giants.
3. DC Robert Saleh should turn the pass rushers loose against the Giants’ OL
Through eight weeks, the Giants have given up 31 sacks, a lot of them due to quarterback Eli Manning’s inability to move around in the pocket. New York doesn’t have the greatest offensive line, but when the quarterback’s mobility is limited, it becomes that much more difficult to avoid sacks.
With the return of linebacker Dekoda Watson last week, adding to linebacker Cassius Marsh and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, the 49ers should pressure the heck out of Manning in obvious passing situations.
Opposing defenses have had a lot of success bringing the blitz against the Giants and I don’t expect the 49ers to do anything different on Monday night.