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49ers vs. Giants: What to expect when the Niners have the ball

Will BDN get the job done?

San Francisco 49ers v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Our friends over at Big Blue View have done a fantastic job breaking down this week’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants. They’ve covered how the Giants offense needs to be ready for the Niners zone defense and what to watch for when New York has the ball. We’ll talk about what we can expect from a 49ers offense that will be without their starting quarterback, star tight end, best wide receiver, and their top two running backs. San Francisco is not making any excuses, though, nor should they.

Hold onto that ball, BDN

Nick Mullens will start for the 49ers. Here is how the quarterbacks at MetLife Stadium performed during Week 2:

Expected points added, or EPA measures the value of individual plays in terms of points. Think of it in similar terms to DVOA. How much is a player bringing to the table and adding above what the expectation is? The next stat is “completion percentage over expectation,” or CPOE. As you can see, one of these things is not like the other. In Mullens’ defense, he had no idea he would play last Sunday, and his offensive line did him zero favors. Mullens took a hit in his quarterback rating for taking sacks and fumbling the ball—two things he’ll need to avoid against the Giants.

How the 49ers will attack New York

When Mullens started for San Francisco in 2018, he relied heavily on George Kittle. Mullens won’t have Kittle at his disposal against the Giants. Which receivers do the Giants struggle to cover? Football Outsiders has the Giants with the third-highest DVOA against both No. 1 and 2 wide receivers, but they struggle against “other” wideouts, ranking 27th in DVOA. The Giants are 17th in DVOA against tight ends and 22nd against running backs. Hello, Jordan Reed and Jerick McKinnon.

Football Outsiders also tracks how defenses are in certain areas of the field. The Giants are first in the NFL at defending the right side of the field, but 29th at defending the left side of the field. Hmm, I wonder which side Kyle Shanahan will attack on Sunday? Giants are also susceptible to the short areas of the field and the deep middle portion. On defense, the lower the number, the better. The 49ers DVOA on deep passes (over 20 yards) over the middle of the field is 0.0. The Giants? 96%!

On the Bears first pass of the game last week, Mitchell Trubisky had all day to throw and found Allen Robinson over the middle for 17 yards. Chicago must’ve seen the Giants struggle to defend screen passes, as they came out and had success on those throws against New York. Brandon Aiyuk, anyone?

Mullens must take shots down the field to keep the Giants defense honest. Trubisky took a couple of shots down the field early in the game, and that loosened the defense up. The Bears had open receivers down the field, but they either couldn’t haul the throw in or flat out dropped the ball. The 49ers cannot afford to make these types of mistakes, but it’s nice to know the opportunities will be there.

The 49ers should live in the middle of the field. Remember the Packers linebacker Blake Martinez that the Niners exposed last year? He’s the Giants starter.

This is an area of the field and a matchup the 49ers must take advantage of—the middle of the field parts like the red sea when New York sees play-action. Trubisky went 5 of 7 on throws between 10 and 20 yards over the middle of the field for 71 yards last Sunday.

No Mostert, no problem?

With the Giants being “big and slow” upfront, you’d think that the goal would be to get to the edges against them. The 49ers will have success running the ball right at this defense. Get a had on their big bodies and make their linebackers tackle in the open field. That was an issue last week, and that should continue this week. The Bears ran the ball 16 times up the middle for 91 yards. Their longest carry went for 10 yards. That tells you Chicago had their way.

I believe Jeff Wilson Jr. is a decisive runner who does a great job finding creases and getting north and south. We’ve seen McKinnon break a few ankles when he’s 1-on-1 already. Those two and JaMycal Hasty will have these type of opportunities:

Yes, that’s Cordarrelle Patterson. A subtle jab step throws the linebacker off, and Patterson gains another 10 yards. Not to sound like a broken record, but the Giants linebackers are going to be under Shanahan’s microscope all game.

Only seven teams have missed more tackles than the Giants defense this season. The 49ers ball carriers must win their 1-on-1 battles, keep the offense ahead of the chains, and make third down manageable for Mullens.

By the numbers

Let’s look at how each team compares to each other in a handful of key stats.

“SR” stands for success rate. I’m a fan of that stat as it’s simple to understand and lets us know, was the play a success or not? A five-yard completion on 3rd & 8 is not a successful play. A three-yard run on first down is a win for the defense.

We mentioned how teams are on third downs all of the time, but we never mention how they fare on early downs. The best offenses win on first and second down. As you can see, the Giants have been as good as it gets on early downs and, in general, against the run. The 49ers cannot say the same. Aside from a few explosive run plays this season, the 49ers running game has been stagnant. It’s put the offense behind the chains and forced them into some difficult third-down situations. Seeing those numbers above for a Kyle Shanahan-led offense is somewhat unbelievable, but the execution hasn’t been there for the 49ers.

Give the Giants some credit, but they’ve been luckier than good based on what I saw. The Giants have been a bottom-10 defense in terms of giving up big plays. The 49ers have to take advantage when these plays present themselves. San Francisco needs to get out of their own way, stop making boneheaded mistakes, and play their game. If they do that, they’ll be fine on offense against the Giants.