The San Francisco 49ers surprised many of us on Sunday after dominating the New York Giants 36-9. Raise your hand if you knew the 49ers, despite missing several key starters, would outscore New York by 27 points? I didn’t think so. We’ve had overreactions after a loss, and after a win that felt like a loss. Here are four overreactions after a convincing win.
Nick Mullens should start!
This season, Jimmy Garoppolo has played 56 plays compared to Mullens 55 plays. Mullens has a higher success rate and completion percentage over expectation than Garoppolo by 3%. Both players have similar air yard numbers at 6.5 and 6.6, respectively. When you isolate Mullens’s performance against the Giants, he was outstanding. His quarterback rating was an 80. For reference, Garoppolo’s QBR against the Saints last year, where he threw four touchdowns, was a 73.9.
The advanced stats love what Mullens did on Sunday. The 49ers gained a first down on 50% of his throws. Mullens’ EPA (expected points added) was 25.5(!), and his success rate was 62%. Again, for reference, Garoppolo’s EPA against the Saints, the game where everyone points to in attempts to applaud Garoppolo, was 18.5, with a 52% success rate, and threw a first down on 42% of his passes.
Throughout the game, we had endless mentions on Twitter, saying Mullens should be the starter. The eye test and the numbers give you a strong argument—especially considering Mullens played so well without the 49ers two best pass-catchers and their top two running backs.
We forget a few things here, though.
Before he went down with an injury, Garoppolo, too, was playing out of his mind against the Jets. If he had the same time as Mullens had to throw, it’d be easier to acknowledge that. That long catch to Jerick McKinnon should have gone to the corner and would have been a touchdown. There were a few plays in the pocket as well where Mullens probably should have gotten rid of the ball. With that said, considering the circumstances, Mullens didn’t play well; he played great. He deserves all of the credit, and that might tempt Kyle Shanahan to take it slow with Jimmy Garoppolo’s high-ankle sprain. Shanahan was consistent last week, saying that Jimmy G is the starter. That’s not going to change after one game against a hopeless defense in the Giants.
Mullens played great, and we should leave it at that. I also believe Shanahan called a terrific game. I’m optimistic that we all will react to his performance logically.
The 49ers’ issues at wide receiver are no more
Watching Sunday’s game, you couldn’t help but think about how dangerous this offense would be when everyone is healthy. Brandon Aiyuk, in his second game, had the most targets on the team. His timing with Mullens was great, and you could see the potential playmaking skills from the 49ers first-round pick. San Francisco will need a wideout who can win on the outside, and it looks like Aiyuk is that player.
Kendrick Bourne looks quicker and more decisive in his routes. He’s always been good in traffic and over the middle, but it’s promising to see Bourne make plays after the catch and win outside. He and Mullens’ chemistry goes back to 2018, and they picked up where they left off on Sunday. You could argue that Bourne is the team’s most reliable wide receiver at this point.
Aiyuk, Bourne, plus George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Jordan Reed give the 49ers five legitimate options in the passing game. The team is deep, and that’s not counting either of the running backs, Trent Taylor or Mohamed Sanu. Just wait until this offense hits their stride.
The offensive line continues to struggle
What is going on up front? The Giants are stout along the defensive line, especially up the middle. We saw Aiyuk carry the ball twice on the first drive, in attempts to get to the edge. Time and time again, the 49ers were running into a brick wall. Even with Aiyuk’s 19-yard touchdown run, the 49ers averaged 2.7 yards per carry on 35 carries.
There isn’t any push from the 49ers offensive line, and there sure aren’t any creases. McKinnon’s success rate was 25%, and Wilson’s was 17%. Both players had double-digit carries. You didn’t come away from that game saying either running back played poorly, either. The 49ers have to figure out their running game. It’s been an issue three games in a row.
Jason Verrett should remain the starter for the rest of the season
The 49ers haven’t had great performances at cornerback before Sunday. It hasn’t always shown up in the box score or on the scoreboard, but each of the three cornerbacks that have suited up has left a lot to be desired. On Sunday, Verrett looked like a player who could help the secondary. He had a couple of stops, which tells you Verrett isn’t thinking about his injuries. He flew up, made a nice tackle on a screen pass, and had another tackle on 4th & short. Verrett did have a penalty (though it was on the other side of the field), but he was always in a position to make a play on the passes in his direction.
Emmanuel Moseley outperformed Verrett during training camp, and I didn’t think it was all that close. I’d leave Moseley on the field if healthy. Moseley left Sunday’s game after being evaluated for a concussion. His backup, Ahkello Witherspoon, didn’t play thanks to a hamstring injury. Robert Saleh will have to make a difficult decision after Verrett’s performance. With Richard Sherman out at least two more games, could we see rotations at cornerback, or is the job Witherspoon’s if healthy? The 49ers’ next two opponents, the Eagles, and Dolphins came into Week 3 tied for 12th with the most passing plays over 20 yards this season. Expect the Niners secondary to be tested.