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Film Study: How 49ers change with QB Nick Mullens


The Giants and 49ers head into this game with major players injured. Here's what to expect from a banged-up 49ers team on Sunday.

* Jimmy Garoppolo has a high ankle sprain that forced him out of the second half of the Jets game last Sunday. He did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday and has been ruled out for Sunday's game, which means Mick Mullens will have to step in as the starter. Mullens started eight games for the 49ers in 2018, and completed 64.2% of his passes for 2277 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Do not expect the 49ers to have to deviate from what they like to do on offense because Mullens is under center. He likes to get the ball out of his hands quickly and is mobile enough to execute the 49ers' play-action pass and rollout-heavy offense. Last week, he went 8-11 for 71 yards and an interception.

* Kyle Shanahan's offense is known for the outside zone scheme with a lot of play-action and movement off of that play. In their first two games, however, they didn't run nearly as much of that as they have in the past. They are still a run-first team, with a 63.3% run rate on 1st-and-10, which is the 7th-highest in the league. They've been pulling their guards and using power more on their inside and off-tackle runs. The 49ers have used play-action on 29% of their pass plays, which is the 9th-highest rank in the league.

* It appears running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman will be absent from the game with knee injuries, which means the 49ers will have to lean on Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson. McKinnon missed the last two seasons with injuries. This season, he has six carries for 101 yards and a touchdown, including a 55-yard run on 3rd-and-31. He is an explosive player. Wilson has only two carries for three yards this year.

* The 49ers are also injured at wide receiver. Deebo Samuel is on injured reserve, recovering from a broken foot he suffered in the off-season. Rookie Brandon Aiyuk returned in Week 2 after missing much of the summer and the start of the regular season with a hamstring injury. Last week, he caught two passes for 21 yards (15 after the catch). Aiyuk is explosive with the ball in his hands and 49ers tried to get him the ball quickly near the line of scrimmage against the Jets. Kendrick Bourne has been the team's top target at wide receiver, catching six passes for 101 yards.

* The 49ers top targets have been their tight ends. George Kittle missed Week 2 with a knee injury after catching four passes for 44 yards in Week 1 before getting hurt. He's been limited in practice this week. Kittle possesses the rare combination of speed, hands, quickness, strength and size to excel as both a blocker and a receiver who can line up anywhere. Former Redskin Jordan Reed has stepped in for Kittle and flashed his old receiving ability. He has nine catches for 62 yards and looks like his old self with his combination of size and ability to create separation.

* Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is a versatile weapon. He can be used as a traditional lead blocker, can carry the football, and can be used in the passing game. He already has a 41-yard reception this season, when he converted from a lead blocker to a receiver on a play-action pass and caught a deep throw.

* The 49ers have been a conservative offense with their passing game this season, having completed only three passes of 20 or more yards, which is tied for 30th in the league. Their quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of only 39.6 when trying to complete a pass 20+ yards downfield. They are 0-6 with one interception on such passes.

* The 49ers rely on their receivers gaining yards after the catch. Their 274 yards after the catch rank 6th-most in the NFL.

* The 49ers haven't been effective on first down, averaging the 4th-most average yards to go on second down (8.63 yards). Only 37.5% of their first-down runs gain four or more yards, which ranks 28th in the NFL.

* The 49ers offensive line is healthy, with Ben Garland returning as the team's starting center against the Jets after missing Week 1. Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill are the guards. Trent Williams has looked like his dominant self at left tackle since being acquired by the Redskins. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed only one sack and one hurry after two games. Mike McGlinchey enters his third season as the team's starting right tackle after being taken in the first round of the 2018 draft. According to PFF, he has allowed five quarterback hits and four hurries this year.

* Despite the injuries, the 49ers still rank third in the NFL in yards allowed per play (4.86) and sixth in yards allowed per game (340.5). They have kept opponents out of the end zone on 50% of their red zone appearances, which is tied for sixth-best in the NFL.

* The 49ers defensive line, usually one of the best units in the league, has suffered multiple injuries. Star defensive end Nick Bosa and former first-round pick Solomon Thomas have been lost for the season with torn ACL's. Dee Ford is out with a back injury. DJ Jones and rookie Javon Kinlaw will likely start at defensive tackle. Kinlaw, the 49ers first round pick at 14th overall (acquired by trading DeForest Buckner to the Colts), has a rare combination of size and quickness. According to PFF, he has four quarterback hurries this year. Jones has a sack and two quarterback hurries.

* Arik Armstead had a breakout year with 10 sacks in his fifth season in 2019, leading to a long-term contract this off-season. In 2020, PFF credits him with a sack, three quarterback hits and five hurries. Kerry Hyder is likely going to start across from Armstead. PFF lists him with a sack, two quarterback hits, and two hurries after two weeks. Armstead primarily plays left end, with some snaps at left defensive tackle. He will draw Cameron Fleming on most downs, which means Kerry Hyder will likely go against rookie Andrew Thomas.

* According to PFF, the 49ers have blitzed on 30% of passing downs, which is near the league average. They sent extra blitzers against the Jets more often than they did against the Cardinals in Week 1, blitzing at a 35% rate. They also use stunts about 15% of the time, which is around the league average. Despite having only three sacks, the 49ers pressure the opponent on one-third of their dropbacks, which is the ninth-best rate in the league.

* The 49ers have struggled to stop the run. They've allowed 10 runs of 10 or more yards, which is the 5th-most in the NFL. Only six teams have given up more than the 142 rush yards per game than the 49ers. They are only allowing 4.37 yards per carry, which ranks 16th in the NFL. They have struggled against teams running off-tackle and to the sideline to the right, where opponents have gained 105 yards on just nine carries.

* Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner rarely leave the field for the 49ers. Warner is their MIKE linebacker and excels in coverage. According to PFF, he has only allowed four catches for 20 yards this season. Kwon Alexander is an effective blitzer, and has been sent after the quarterback 16 times in the first two weeks of the season. Dre Greenlaw is their third linebacker, but he has only played 52 defensive snaps in the first two games.

* The 49ers secondary has focused on keeping everything in front of them this season. They have allowed only three completions of 20+ yards, which is tied for the fewest in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of only 39.6 on passes traveling 21 or more yards in the air. They've been effective in preventing the big play because they have played "Quarters" defense (four deep) on 41% of their coverage snaps which is, by far, the most in the NFL. All but 10 of those, however, came in Week 1 against the Cardinals because of their unique spread offense. The 49ers only ran "Quarters" 10 times in Week 2, while running "Cover 1" 20 times, and "Cover 3" 19 times. It will be interesting to see what scheme they decide to use against the Giants.

* Richard Sherman suffered a leg injury in Week 1 and was put on injured reserve. Ahkello Witherspoon, last year's starter, replaced him in the starting lineup. According to PFF, Witherspoon has already given up six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown this season. According to PFF, the other starting cornerback, Emmanuel Moseley, has allowed 10 catches on 18 targets for 89 yards. He has forced three incompletions. Nickel K'Waun Williams has played well early in the season, allowing only five catches for 23 yards in the first two games.

* Jimmie Ward is the free safety and Jaquiski Tartt is considered their strong safety. The 49ers often use an initial alignment of both safeties deep, though it was used less against the Jets than versus the Cardinals.

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