The pass rush has been the most encouraging part of the first two weeks.
John Schmeelk: Fiction - The Giants are 4th in the NFL in sack percentage (8.7%), with 6 sacks on 69 dropbacks. According to PFF, they rank 16th in the NFL in pressure percentage (30.4%), putting pressure on the quarterback on 21 of 69 pass plays. They've done this by only blitzing on 24.6% of pass plays against them, which is only the 20th highest rate in the NFL.
Alll of those numbers are encouraging. It is a small sample of data and will be interesting to see how they track moving forward. There is one number that causes concern – the average time opposing quarterbacks have had to throw: It would rank around the 10th-longest in the league among quarterbacks with at least 25 attempts.
I'm more impressed with the secondary's ability to limit big plays. Opponents have only completed one pass that has traveled 20 or more yards in the air. The secondary is keeping plays in front of them and forcing opponents to earn their points with long drives down the field.
Lance Medow: Fact - Last season, the Giants recorded 36 sacks and finished 22nd in the NFL. They're currently tied for fifth with six in two games. While the early total is encouraging, even more impressive, six different players have recorded a sack. The pass rush has come in many different forms and several players are finishing. With a relatively young secondary, the Giants need to continue to find ways to generate pressure and with sacks coming to the forefront in each of the first two games, it's no surprise the Giants also rank second in the league against the pass, surrendering under 200 yards per game. Now, it's a matter of cleaning up the run defense.
Evan Engram is the X-factor on Sunday.
John Schmeelk: Fact - Without Saquon Barkley, the Giants need to find the mismatch other teams have to plan for. It can be Evan Engram. If the 49ers opt to play more man-to-man like they did against the Jets, he should have an advantage against whichever 49ers linebacker or safety covers him. Middle linebacker Fred Warner is an excellent coverage player, but asking him to cover Engram, who is 6'3 and runs a 4.4 40 yard dash might be a bridge too far. If the 49ers opt to play zone, Engram should be a primary target in the intermediate level of the field..
Lance Medow: Fact - With Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard sidelined, teams will change the way they defend the Giants. That's why Daniel Jones and Co. need to force some favorable matchups. Opposing defenses are likely going to focus on Darius Slayton and risk plays being made by the backfield or Daniel Jones. That's why Evan Engram can be the X-factor. If he can piggyback off his performance in the second half against the Bears, it could force the Niners' defense to use more resources to defend him and that may open up things for other players.
After the injuries to both teams, the 49ers' offense is a bigger threat than their defense this week.
John Schmeelk: Fiction - Despite their losses on the defensive side of the ball, I am still more worried about the 49ers defense. They play a very sound scheme and execute it well. They have only allowed three passes of 20 or more yards this season. They only have three sacks, but that has more to do with their opponents getting the ball out quickly. Without Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas, their pass rush will suffer. They have been susceptible to the run game, which is something the Giants should be able to take advantage of.
On offense, the 49ers will be missing their starting quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo), and perhaps their top two running backs (Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman), top wide receiver (Deebo Samuel) and top tight end (George Kittle). I expect Kyle Shanahan to pull out all the stops with his scheme and maybe even use some trick plays to help his offense move the ball.
Lance Medow: Fact - Despite the injuries, I wouldn't overlook either facet. Regardless of what you think of the Jets' offense, that banged up Niners' defense still held that group to only 13 points in Week 2 and the team has since added some reinforcements, including Ziggy Ansah and Dion Jordan. Keep in mind, the Giants' offense is averaging just 14.5 points per game (32nd NFL). With that being said, I think San Francisco's offense is a bigger threat because of the depth on that side of the ball. With running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman injured, Kyle Shanahan will be turning to Jerick McKinnon, who has plenty of experience in the NFL and is more than capable of producing explosive plays. Whether tight end George Kittle plays or not, the same can be said for backup Jordan Reed, who caught a pair of touchdowns last Sunday and is very athletic. The Niners also showcase a very strong offensive line anchored by 7-Time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams and former first-round right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Even backup quarterback Nick Mullens has some starting experience in the NFL and proven to be an effective passer. Shanahan is a very creative play-caller and given the various options he can still toy with, San Francisco's offense still poses some notable challenges.
Dion Lewis will get the vast majority of touches out of the Giants' backfield on Sunday.
John Schmeelk: Fiction - In my opinion, the Giants are going to operate a true "three-headed monster" approach until one back proves they deserve a large share of the carries. Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman, and Devonta Freeman have different skillsets and I would expect them to be used in situations that play to their strengths. I wouldn't expect any of the three to finish with much more than 15 touches.
Lance Medow: Fact - Devonta Freeman will be utilized, but I find it hard to believe that after joining the team in midw-eek, he'll be the featured back with the bulk of the carries. As a free agent, Freeman didn't take part in training camp so - while he's been working out on his own - that's very different from being involved in team activities during the course of a typical NFL week. On top of that, he also has to learn the offense. That's why I would expect Lewis to retain the lead back role this week with Wayne Gallman being mixed in. It will likely be a running back-by-committee approach, which is nothing new for Joe Judge because that's what the Patriots practiced every season during his tenure in New England.
View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.