The San Francisco 49ers open their home schedule with its first of two Thursday night games this season, hosting the 1-1 New York Giants. Both teams are coming off of wins against NFC West opponents, the 49ers defeating the Los Angeles Rams and the Giants needing a comeback to beat the Arizona Cardinals. The G-Men trailed Arizona 28-7 before scoring 24 consecutive points in the game’s final 20 minutes to win 31-28.
Thursday night games can be tricky, but the 49ers will be safe if it goes up 21 against the Giants.
Here are the three numbers that will decide the 2023 opener at Levi’s Stadium:
Percent. Daniel Jones’ has thrown an interception on 4.6 percent of his 65 pass attempts.
It’s early, I understand that, but the Giants’ early season woes - although one good half earned them their first win of the season - have been because of Jones’s interceptions.
The Giants made the playoffs not because Danny Dimes was lighting up the scoreboard but because he wasn’t throwing interceptions. His 1.1 interception percentage in 2022 led the league with only five interceptions in 472 attempts.
He already has three interceptions in only 65 attempts this season.
Jones will face a 49ers defense that tied for the league lead in interceptions last season and a group that already has the second-most (four) in the season’s first two games. The interceptions have been spread around the defense, with Charvarius Ward and Talanoa Hufanga intercepting Kenny Pickett in Week 1 and Deommodore Lenoir and Isaiah Oliver getting Matthew Stafford on Sunday.
The Dallas Cowboys are the lone team ahead of the 49ers, with five interceptions in the first two games. Football match tells me that since Dallas intercepted Jones twice in Week 1, and the 49ers defense has two in each of their first two games, the 49ers are guaranteed to pick Jones off twice.
Percent. Since the start of the 2022 season, Saquon Barkley has taken 40 percent of the Giants’ 964 touches.
He’s accounted for 27 percent of the teams’ scrimmage yards in the same span. If Barkley misses Thursday night - reported to be out for three weeks, but Giants head coach Brian Daboll hasn’t ruled the running back out yet - the Giants would be missing a quarter of their offense in one player.
Barkley does it all, finishing 2022 with 1,312 rushing yards and 338 receiving yards. He even accounted for 10 of New York’s 38 offensive touchdowns. Last season was also the first time since Barkley’s rookie year he started at least 16 games, dealing with injuries in the three years between.
If Barkley doesn’t play, familiar face Matt Breida will step in as the Giants running back. But something to keep in mind is Daniel Jones’s ability to run, already with 102 rushing yards in two games after rushing for 708 in 2022.
The 49ers defense has traditionally struggled against mobile quarterbacks, but Sunday will be Steve Wilks’ first shot against one as the 49ers defensive coordinator. The good news for Wilks is that the Giants’ offensive line has struggled to keep Jones clean, allowing ten sacks in two games with the second-highest sack percentage and a sack on 13.2 percent of dropbacks.
If Barkley misses - and that feels likely despite how quick of a healer he may or may not be - the Giants running game will fall on Jones. Can the 49ers’ pass rush create enough pressure not just to pressure him into potential turnovers but also to prevent chunk runs from the quarterback?
Yards. The Giants’ defense has allowed 273 rushing yards through two games, seventh-most in the league.
Christian McCaffrey has 268 rushing yards, as he’s been the brightest spot on an offense full of bright spots. The 49ers’ running back has rushed for at least 100 yards in the first two games of the season after only three such games in 11 regular season games with the 49ers in 2022.
There was plenty of talk about McCaffrey’s snap count Sunday against the Rams, playing on every one of the 49ers’ 57 snaps. That came after McCaffrey played 58 snaps in the Week 1 win in Pittsburgh. Now, with a short week, does Elijah Mitchell see more carries like Shanahan said he could see, or does Shanahan work McCaffrey more - fully utilizing his all-pro running back - against a defense that has struggled early against the run?
The Giants have been beaten on the ground against both a committee and a big day from one back. In their Week 1 loss to Dallas, the Cowboys rushed for 122 yards on 30 attempts en route to their 40-0 win. Tony Pollard led the way for Dallas with 70 yards, but Rico Dowdle and KaVontae Turpin combined for 42 yards on nine carries.
Week 2 was a different story for the Giants as James Conner rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown, with Josh Dobbs tacking on 41 rushing yards of his own with a touchdown.
The 49ers running game should be able to get yardage against this Giants defense, but how Shanahan splits the workload will be what to watch.