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Players to Watch

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Players to watch on Thursday Night Football


After a thrilling comeback in Week 2, the New York Giants have a quick turnaround as they travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers Thursday night.

The Giants stayed in Tempe after Sunday's game due to the short week. They will look to pick up their second win of the season against a tough 49ers team trying to remain undefeated on the year.

The 49ers picked up back-to-back road victories to start the season, handily defeating the Steelers in the opener before making the short trip to Los Angeles to beat the Rams this past Sunday.

The Giants and 49ers have alternated wins in their last six meetings, with San Francisco emerging victorious in the most recent matchup in 2020.

Here are five players to watch on Thursday Night Football.

QB Daniel Jones

The first six quarters of the season could not have gone much worse for the offense, but Jones ended the drought in the desert with a record-setting second half. He completed 17 of 21 passes (81.0 percent) for 259 yards and two touchdowns, and added eight rush attempts for 58 yards (7.3 yard per carry) and another score on the ground. More importantly, he steered the offense to 31 points on five second-half drives, including 24 unanswered points to end the game.

"I feel like there are so many opportunities in the NFL to ride the roller coaster if you want to, and I feel like he just refuses to get on it," tight end Darren Waller said about Jones. "If you look at, we're like, what, 60-0 in our first six quarters? There're turnovers, there's drives that aren't getting there, and it's just like, you don't see him wearing it, you don't see him pointing at other guys or getting mad on the sidelines. It's just eventually as long as we keep plugging into this process and trying to do things the right way, it's going to turn for us. And that energy paid off and it's something that you can follow."

If there's an area to attack the staunch 49ers defense, it's through the air. San Francisco enters this game having allowed 495 passing yards in the first two games (23rd in the NFL) after ranking 20th in passing yards allowed last season. But Jones will have to be careful, as the 49ers' 20 interceptions were tied for the most in the league in 2022, while their four picks this year rank second.

View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.

TE Darren Waller

The veteran tight end showed just how big of a piece he can be in the passing game against the Cardinals. Waller led the Giants with eight targets, which he turned into a team-high six receptions (tied with Saquon Barkley) for 76 yards. Jones' first two passes thrown to Waller fell incomplete, but the two were able to connect on the tight end's next six targets, four of which resulted in first downs.

"He's extremely levelheaded and his demeanor is always the same," Jones said about the veteran tight end. "He shows up and does his work. He's the same every day. He's consistent in that approach and has been in the league for a long time, so he's seen a lot. Kind of a steady presence in the locker room that guys can look to as a leader and I think he's been a big help for us."

The 49ers boast a lot of talent in the secondary, and their starting safety duo plays a large role in that. Talanoa Hufanga was named first-team All-Pro last season after starting all 17 games and finishing with four interceptions, nine passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Tashaun Gipson, a 12-year NFL veteran, led San Francisco with five interceptions to go along with eight passes defensed. Rams tight end Tyler Higbee managed just three receptions for 12 yards on seven targets against the 49ers last weekend, but Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth did catch a three-yard touchdown pass against them in Week 1.

WR Jalin Hyatt

Coming out of the locker room for the second half of Sunday's game, the Giants knew they needed a spark on offense. Enter Jalin Hyatt. The rookie wide receiver made big plays throughout training camp and the preseason, and in Week 2, he stepped up when the Giants needed him most.

Hyatt used his speed to blaze past the defense and haul in a 58-yard reception from Jones. Two plays later, the Giants scored their first touchdown of the season. Hyatt came up big again on the final touchdown drive, hauling in a 31-yard pass to move the Giants into the red zone. The two passes thrown to Hyatt had air yards of 43.4 and 30.2, according to Next Gen Stats, which highlights the rookie's downfield threat.

"Obviously we're just two games into it, and he's made some big plays, so we'll see how defenses adjust. But we've got to continue to make those plays and take advantage of the opportunities…" Jones said about the rookie's big-play ability. "You want receivers that want the ball. He's had that same kind of confidence and desire to make the play. We've seen that since he got here really, so got a lot of trust and confidence in him, and he played well for us."

San Francisco has limited big plays in the first two weeks of the season. The 49ers head into Thursday Night Football ranking 11th in air yards per attempt allowed at 6.8 This comes one season after they ranked third in the same category.

DL Dexter Lawrence

The 6-foot-4 defensive lineman has recorded four quarterback hits to go with seven quarterback pressures, according to Next Gen Stats. However, the Giants are the only team yet to register a sack this season.

"A multitude of things, versus Dallas, they were getting the ball out pretty quick," linebacker Bobby Okereke said Monday about the team's lack of sacks. "Last week it was a lot of RPO, play action, but I think if you just play drop back pass against us and line up our front four, we will get sacks. ... We've got a great defensive front, rush and cover work together. So, us covering, we've just got to cover our guys for a second longer and let those guys get home and same thing, they've got to get home, so we don't have to cover as long, it works together."

Through the first two games of the season, the 49ers have surrendered four sacks (one to the Rams, three to the Steelers) and 10 quarterback hits. Last year, San Francisco's 31 sacks allowed finished as the sixth-fewest in the NFL.

ILB Bobby Okereke

The Giants' defense struggled to contain the Cardinals in the first half of Sunday's outing. Four of Arizona's five first-half drives resulted in points, with the fifth ending in a missed field goal, as quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back James Conner led the Cardinals to 266 total yards of offense. But similar to the Giants' offense, the defense clamped down in the second half.

After Arizona scored a touchdown on their opening drive, the Giants held them off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game. The Cardinals totaled 48 yards on their final four drives, including two possessions that resulted in negative yards. Okereke told reporters Monday that the defense knows they can't get off to a sluggish start in Week 3.

"We've got to start fast," the linebacker said about Thursday's game. "That is a reoccurring theme in the first game and the second game, but I think we are building off momentum like I said in the second half and responding to adversity, because we are going to face more adversity throughout the season, it's a long 17-week season, especially in the postseason. So, we are going to need to lean on the lessons we learn through this adversity."

Okereke's biggest challenge on Thursday will be trying to limit 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey. The 27-year-old leads the NFL with 42 rush attempts for 268 yards and 48 total touches. He has found the end zone twice already while sporting an impressive 6.4 yards per carry. In 17 games between the 49ers and Panthers last season, McCaffrey caught 85 passes for 741 yards and five touchdowns to go with his 1,139 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

"His speed and acceleration are, I'd say really second to none," Okereke said about McCaffrey. "He runs with really disciplined angles, he's a downhill runner, he's a cutback runner and I think he has great vision, great speed, acceleration, so he will be a great challenge for us.


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