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Nick Mullens next challenge? Facing the Seahawks for the second time in three weeks

This will be big for assessing his chances as the 49ers backup of the future.

Each of the past five weeks have offered second year quarterback Nick Mullens a new challenge.

  1. vs. Raiders: First career start
  2. vs. Giants: First start coming off a historic debut, with regular season film of him now available
  3. @ Bucs: First road game
  4. @ Seahawks: First divisional game, first game coming off a really bad start
  5. vs. Broncos: First start against a top five defense

This week, the 49ers host the Seahawks, and the challenge this week is his first chance to face a team that is facing him for the second time. The 49ers and Seahawks were scheduled for two games over the course of three weeks. We thought it would be Jimmy Garoppolo facing this same challenge, but instead it is Mullens.

Kyle Shanahan and Pete Carroll will talk about each week being a challenge and it not mattering who they are facing. But given the situation with Mullens and the 49ers youth movement, this second matchup is a huge test for the team. The Seahawks have a season’s worth of film, but now also have a previous matchup’s worth of film to study.

Nick Mullens will not be replacing a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo as the 49ers starting quarterback. But the 49ers are looking at a heated competition for the backup quarterback job. Mullens will close out the season facing three distinctly difficult matchups, but he is coming in hot. As Pete Carroll described him:

“He was really good against us. He hung in the pocket well, completed a bunch of passes, was real accurate with the football. Handled the stuff that we threw at him, he did a very good job against us. The last two weeks he’s thrown for almost 800 yards. He’s been on fire.”

Mullens threw for 414 yards against the Seahawks, and another 332 against the Broncos. The big number against Seattle came largely in garbage time, after the 49ers were trailing 20-3. That being said, it was a bigger number than 49ers quarterback in recent memory had put up against Seattle. He benefited from some loose defense, but so loose as to put up 400 yards? That’s a credit to Mullens and the offense.

I don’t anticipate another 400 yard game, but if he can put up another solid effort, that adds momentum for Week 16 against the Chicago Bears and their league-leading defense. The 49ers close at the Los Angeles Rams, which is a tough one to figure for now given that we don’t know if LA will be resting players. But if not, he is closing the season against a lot of good defenses.

The Bears and Rams games are big for assessing Mullens, but this weekend against Seattle might be the biggest. That second time through provides Seattle a chance to adjust and pick apart Mullens’ weaknesses. Chris Biderman pointed out one stat that was particularly interesting.

Mullens has made “aggressive” throws on just 8 percent of his pass attempts, according to the NFL’s Next Gen statistics, measuring throws where defenders are within a yard of the intended target. That ranks dead last among 35 quarterbacks with at least 113 pass attempts this season.

It’s safe to say the Seahawks will look to make life more difficult for Mullens’ receivers. The less space they have, the better chance the Seahawks might have to make Mullens’ life miserable. That will be one of the biggest things to watch this weekend.