1. Back from the bye week. The New York Giants returned from their break this week and will begin the second half of their season with a Monday night game in San Francisco exactly a year after the two teams last played at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers won the meeting last November for their first victory of the season, while the Giants entered with a 1-7 record – just like they do this year. But the faces in blue have changed dramatically. The 49ers enter Monday night at 2-7.
"I was watching the game, this was about a year ago … when the Giants went out and played the Niners, and I was watching the game just because it's the same defensive scheme and I think there were four players on our offense that played last year," said Pat Shurmur, who is in his first year as the Giants' head coach. "If you do the math, there's seven new guys in there. There's a lot of change, there's a lot running parallel, but the urgency to win is always there. That's what we're trying to do."
2. Knotted up. Historically, the Giants vs. 49ers rivalry is as good as it gets in the NFL for non-divisional opponents. The all-time series is tied 16-16 in the regular season (Giants are plus-3 in scoring differential) and 4-4 in the postseason (minus-2), thus just one point separates the two teams in 20 overall meetings dating back to 1952. These teams have nine Super Bowl titles combined, and they often went through one another to get there. The Giants' 1986, 1990 and 2011 championship runs included wins over the 49ers in the playoffs, and the opposite was true for San Francisco in 1981 and 1984.
3. Eli to start Monday. Over the bye week, Shurmur had a few conversations with quarterback Eli Manning, which included telling him that he is going to start Monday night. Of course, that only begged the question from the outside world about what happens beyond Week 10. "I told you, he is starting Monday. You roll with it how you want, with the idea that he's going to get us on a run here and there will be no decisions to be made," Shurmur said. "In other words, part of the conversation was, 'We trust you, we want to work with you, and we trust the fact that you're going to get in there and help us win football games.'"
4. Next off the bench. Rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta, a fourth-round draft choice, was arrested last Tuesday morning following a traffic violation in Weehawken. He was not suspended by the Giants, but there were "internal consequences" for the Richmond product who has yet to dress for a game this season. Shurmur expressed his disappointment, saying that "especially with a quarterback, you're looking at decision-making in all facets of a player's life." Meanwhile, Alex Tanney has been Manning's backup on game days this season. He has appeared in only one game in his career – a 2015 outing in which he went 10-for-14 for 99 yards and a touchdown in a relief job for the Titans – but Shurmur would consider playing him this season. "Absolutely," Shurmur said. "It goes without saying. We've had him as number two throughout. We just don't stack them up willy-nilly."
5. Jimmy who? The 49ers picked up their second win of the season last week with their third quarterback. C.J. Beathard had been starting in place of Jimmy Garoppolo, who tore his ACL after signing a lucrative contract over the offseason, but it was Nick Mullens making his debut last Thursday night against the Raiders. He went on to become the third player in NFL history since 1950 to throw for at least 250 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in his debut, joining Hall of Famers Fran Tarkenton and Jim Kelly. Now the NFL has tape on Mullens, who spent last year as a practice squad safety for the 49ers. "It gets harder and harder, it doesn't get easier," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "It will be a big challenge this week versus the Giants, they do a hell of a job defensively with their scheme and with their players. It will be nice for him to get a full week of practice. This will be his first full speed practice that he's had with us as a starter, so I know that there's some benefit for him also. But yes, the more you play in the league, it gets tougher."
6. What do you know about pressure? In his terrific debut, Mullens was never sacked and only hit twice by the Raiders. On the flip side, the 49ers sacked Raiders QB Derek Carr seven times last week, the same number of times Manning was brought down in the Giants' last game against Washington before the bye week. Manning has already been sacked as many times (31) as he was in all of last season. Defensively, the Giants have just 10 sacks, the second-fewest in the league.
7. New O-lineman. The Giants are set to start their ninth different lineman and play their 10th overall this season. The team recently claimed fourth-year guard Jamon Brown off waivers from the Rams, who released him after trading for former Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler. Brown, 6-4 and 340 pounds, has played in 42 regular-season games with 30 starts and started the only postseason game in which he played. Last season, he started all 17 games at right guard for the NFC West champions. This year, he played in six games for Los Angeles, which was the NFL's last unbeaten team at 8-0 before falling to New Orleans last Sunday. Brown, who missed the first two games of the year while serving a suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, is on track to be in the starting lineup on Monday night. John Greco recently moved to right guard after Spencer Pulley took over at center.
8. New D-lineman. Last month, rookie defensive end RJ McIntosh practiced for the first time since joining the team in May. This week, he was activated off the reserve/non-football injury list on the final day of the 21-day window to add him to the 53-man roster. "I think my specialty is pass rushing and I want to be able to be a big factor in that and also be an all-around guy," McIntosh said. "Help the D-Line room, help the defense and hopefully I'm a big factor in that."
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants take on the 49ers Monday night.
9. In Saquon We Trust. Entering the bye week, rookie running back Saquon Barkley was second only to MVP candidate Todd Gurley in yards from scrimmage. The second overall pick is on pace to break a few records: most catches by a rookie running back (88 by Reggie Bush in 2006); most catches by a running back (102 by Matt Forte in 2014); most catches by an NFL rookie (101 by Anquan Boldin in 2003); and most catches by a Giants rookie (91 by Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014). Nevertheless, Barkley picked apart his game over the break and said he needs to do a better job of "trusting" himself.
"That's one thing I need to get back to," he said. "I'm big on watching film, and sometimes it hurts myself because I over-calculate things or I overthink sometimes, so try not to do that and trust myself, play the game, and play the position I've been playing since I was a little kid. There's multiple areas, pass [protection], catching the ball, running in between tackles – everything. Every part of my game has room to improve, and that's a challenge that I'm willing to accept. That's a challenge I will continue to get better at."
10. Not so easy. Like the rest of the team, second-year tight end Evan Engram is looking to rinse the bad taste of the first half. The former first-round pick has just 17 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in five games (missed Weeks 4-6 with a knee injury). This comes in the wake of leading all rookie tight ends with 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. The one play he would like back this year was a critical drop in the 20-13 loss to the Redskins in Week 8.
"I was pretty pissed for a couple of days afterwards," Engram said. "It was a big play, but I know I make those in my sleep, but it was an unfortunate – that play happened and it's definitely an important play behind me. Like I said, just keep working and staying the course, get back to the basics, but definitely as a competitor you want to be perfect and you want to strive for perfection. A lot of times that doesn't happen, but it's definitely something I put behind and keep working."