The 49ers easily handled business again on Sunday, the second of a two-game stretch at the Meadowlands MetLife Stadium, by beating the Giants 36-9. And they did it mostly with back-ups at key positions, including Nick Mullens at quarterback, Ross Dwelley at tight end, and Jeff Wilson at running back in the second half.
They may have also lost another asset, tight end Jordan Reed, another casualty of the newly installed and sticky turf. Nonetheless, the 49ers get back home with a 2-1 record and prepare for a less than stellar Eagles team.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan seemed to capture the relief of the entire organization at this point when he stated after the game, “We’ve been on the road for a while. We’re real excited to get on this plane, celebrate a little bit and get back to our families...I was just really happy with everyone across the board, especially losing some of the guys early.”
One of the 2020 draft class rookies that stood out in week three against the Giants was defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw has been nothing short of stellar in his first three games, and even though he doesn’t always wind up in the stat column, his play has been having an impact on the defense’s interior.
Kinlaw was the first of two picks in the first round for the 49ers in the 2020 draft and a guy whom general manager John Lynch was a big fan of in the draft process after he spoke with South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and Kinlaw’s junior college coach Steve Buckley. The coaches talked about what kind of person Kinlaw is both on and off the field, and Kinlaw quickly shot up the draft board.
Lynch said they were most impressed with his on-field ability, especially against top teams like Alabama and Georgia. One thing Lynch stressed to Kinlaw was not to try to be like DeForest Buckner, but instead, be the best version of himself. And so far, through three games, the pick is looking more and more as advertised.
Where Kinlaw makes his money is on early downs, and it’s something I wrote about after they drafted him in the link above, but getting a defender of his caliber that can put teams behind the chains and force long throwing situations is crucial and even more so now with key players along the defensive front out.
Play strength vs. the run
So far, Kinlaw’s biggest contributions have come in the running game where he’s made stops for minimal gain and where he’s shown off his incredible play strength.
Kinlaw flashed his talent in limited snaps versus the Cardinals in week one, where he only played 39 total snaps. But his play strength showed up when given an opportunity. In short, a guy his size should not be able to move this well. And the majority of his run stops in college usually came at the expense of some poor offensive lineman’s inability to counter Kinlaw’s bull rush, but on the play above in his first NFL game, Kinlaw gives Cardinals’ center Mason Cole (No. 52) a one-step jab to the B-gap before he clubs him aside and gets into the backfield.
His penetration into the backfield alters the course of running back Kenyan Drake, and at that point, it looks like the rep may be over for him; he did his job. But not Kinlaw. He hustles to the point of attack, and one-arm tackles Drake for a one yard gain.
Later in week two against the New York Jets, Kinlaw showed off another trait, great pad level combined with elite strength.
At 6-foot-5 and 319 pounds, it almost seems like his size could hinder him from getting adequate pad level, but that’s exactly what he can do when given a chance. On the play above against the Jets, he quickly fires off the ball, gets his pads lower than the blocker in front of him, and bullrushes him into the backfield before discarding him aside and making the tackle.
He did this a few more times against the Giants on Sunday as well and turned in his best performance of the season so far, recording stops and batting a pass out of the air.
On the first play in the clip above, Kinlaw gets skinny, shoves aside the blocker into the A-gap, and makes the stop. Not one blocker was able to block him. In the second clip, a one-on-one rep vs. left guard, Will Hernandez (No. 71), Kinlaw gets off the ball slightly slower than Hernandez. Still, he’s able to meet him at his pad level and toss him aside before getting into the B-gap to stop running back Devonta Freeman for no gain.
In college, while Kinlaw did display some limited pass rush moves in addition to his signature bull rush, it was not commonplace to see him use a variety of moves outside that one, and if he did, his technique (hand placement, footwork, timing) was just a little off, but it worked for him in college. With the 49ers, it’s apparent defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and the defensive staff has been working on refining Kinlaw’s technique and timing and teaching him new moves, which are showing up on film since Week 1.
While he’s learning new moves, his bull rush is still devastating. Here he’s lined up as the 5-technique just outside the tackle’s outside shoulder. His rush slants him into the guard, J.R. Sweezy (No. 64), and Sweezy is powerless to stop it. Kinlaw ends up collapsing the entire right side of the offensive line in the process as he plows Sweezy into the backfield.
He’s also developing an effective side swipe move similar to Nick Bosa’s two-hand swipe.
He’s one-on-one again with Sweezy, and the Cardinals are backed up against their own goal line. At the snap, he fires off at Sweezy’s outside half; jab steps him outside, club’s Sweezy’s punch down, and uses his inside arm to club Sweezy aside before forcing quarterback Kyler Murray to skip a pass off the turf or risk taking a safety.
He’s also learned a thing or two from Nick Bosa as he executes nearly the same exact move movement for movement with Nick Bosa on this next rep, the two-hand swipe.
Against Jets left guard Alex Lewis (No. 71), Kinlaw shows that he’s picking up new moves as he develops this season through only three games. The jab step to Lewis’s inside gets Lewis to attack, but Kinlaw is already inside his reach and knocks Lewis’s attack to the side with the two-hand swipe. Lewis is taken off balance, and the rep is over for him there. Kinlaw is in the backfield to try and finish with the sack. Darnold ends up escaping but barely.
Against the Giants, he continued to take several steps forward. He recorded a batted pass and a quarterback hit among his snaps as well as getting into the throwing lane to disrupt a check down for quarterback Daniel Jones.
Here, Kinlaw just uses pure power and speed to bull rush and pancake the Giants offensive tackles, including fourth overall pick rookie Andrew Thomas. In the first clip, Kinlaw stunts to the outside against Thomas (No. 71) and pushes him to the backfield, tosses him aside and hits Jones just after he throws the pass. His pad level was lower than Thomas, enabling him to win that rep.
In the second clip above against Cameron Fleming (No. 75), Kinlaw is lined up in the wide-9 technique spot, gets a full head of steam, and gets under Flemings pad level to shove him into the backfield before pancaking him into the turf. It won’t be his regular spot, but in certain passing situations, we’ll see more of this as it’s a quick way to get strength and power against a longer down and distance.
Javon Kinlaw is developing quite nicely and hopefully easing some folks’ concerns about trading away Buckner and spending yet another first-round draft pick on a defensive lineman. Right now, those moves are proving to be monumental as they are without Bosa, Dee Ford, and Solomon Thomas.
Having Kinlaw add strength and power to the interior is certainly a plus. It gives defensive coordinator Robert Saleh some much-needed versatility that he can use to manufacture some pressure. If Kinlaw’s play continues developing and improving as it has through the first three games, his talent will be vital down the stretch to maintain a high level of play in the absence of key players.