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Giants vs. 49ers: 5 storylines to follow in Week 3


Week 2 was tough on the injury front across the league, as many teams saw players go down with various ailments. The Giants and 49ers may have gotten hit the hardest, as both clubs lost key contributors for the remainder of the season.

While losing Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL is a significant blow to the offense, the show must go on for Joe Judge and the Giants. Judge will look to pick up his first win as an NFL head coach when Kyle Shanahan and the defending NFC Champion 49ers head to MetLife Stadium for a second consecutive week to take on the Giants.

Here are five story lines to follow heading into Sunday's matchup.

Replacing Saquon in the backfield

Saquon Barkley has been one of the league's premier running backs and offensive playmakers since entering the NFL in 2018, and his combination of strength, speed, agility and awareness is unparalleled. But with him out for the rest of the season, the Giants must look to others to take his place in the backfield, and the offense has a few intriguing options.

Veteran Dion Lewis has had a successful career serving as a pass-catching back, and he showed those abilities when filling in for Barkley against the Bears in Week 2. Lewis caught four passes for 36 yards, three of which went for first downs including a clutch fourth-down catch on the final drive of the game. Lewis can do more than just catch, though. In his final season with the Patriots in 2017, the veteran averaged 5.0 yards per carry on 180 rushes, finishing the season with 896 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

Another option is Wayne Gallman, who has filled in for Barkley in the past. When the Giants' starting back suffered a high ankle sprain last year, Gallman stepped in against Washington and carried the ball 18 times for 63 yards and a touchdown while adding six receptions for 55 yards and an additional score. A concussion limited his starts to that one week, but Gallman more than showed that he's capable of handling a large workload.

In addition to the two backs already on the roster, the Giants signed Devonta Freeman this week. The veteran has played in 16 games over the last two seasons, but is only a few years removed from back-to-back 1,000+ yard campaigns with more than 10 rushing scores in each one. It remains to be seen how big of a role Freeman can have this week with only a few days of practice.

DJ's time to shine

No matter who is in the backfield Sunday, the Giants will have to lean on Daniel Jones more than ever. It's been an encouraging start to the season for the team's second-year quarterback, as he has thrown for 520 yards total against two of the league's best defenses in the Steelers and Bears. His 78.7 overall grade from Pro Football Focus ranks 10th in the NFL, and he has once again shown the ability to create plays with his legs, running for 43 yards.

The 49ers defense has done a good job in the passing game this year. They limited Kyler Murray to 230 yards, one touchdown and an interception in Week 1, although he ran for 91 yards and a score. Last week, the Jets' Sam Darnold was held to just 179 passing yards and a touchdown.

San Francisco entered the season with one of the league's top defenses. Injuries have ravaged the unit, as they will be without CB Richard Sherman, DE Nick Bosa, DL Solomon Thomas, and likely DL Dee Ford, along with several others.

O-line must step up

Even with all of the injuries along San Francisco's defensive line, the Giants are going to need its offensive line to step up in Week 3. While the offense has had some success moving the ball, team has not gotten consistent play from the o-line.

After the first two games, the Giants rank second in pressures allowed, only one behind the Houston Texans for the league lead. Jones has been sacked seven times, while the Giants' running backs have gained just 55 yards on 30 carries.

Slowing down the run game

The Giants' defense has enjoyed a solid start to the season. Through two games, Big Blue's defense has allowed 653 total yards to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears, good for the fourth-lowest mark in the league. The passing defense has played a big part in that, limiting Ben Roethlisberger and Mitchell Trubisky to a total of 377 yards in the air. That is the second-fewest passing yards allowed in the NFL, a stark improvement from last season. 

While the pass defense has played well, the team's run defense has not gotten off to the strongest start. In Week 1, Benny Snell Jr. rushed the ball 19 times for 113 yards (5.9 yards per carry) against the Giants, while David Montgomery and Cordarrelle Patterson combined for 107 yards on 23 rush attempts (4.6 ypc) last week. The Giants enter Week 3 ranking 24th in the league in rushing yards allowed, and are set to face another run-first team Sunday.

It is no secret that San Francisco loves pounding the football on the ground. Raheem Mostert, Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson Jr. combined for 27 rush attempts against the Jets last week, picking up 180 yards (6.7 ypc) along with two touchdowns. Shanahan has already said Mostert will likely be out for Sunday's game, while Coleman's placement on IR will have him out this week as well. The Giants can't sleep on McKinnon and Wilson, though. McKinnon was impressive on his three carries against the Jets, rushing for 77 yards and a score, while Wilson has looked good filling in for injured starters over the past few seasons.

Can defensive FA signings continue stellar play?

The Giants made two big splashes on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, bringing in cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez. Although we are only two weeks into the season, both signings have already paid huge dividends.

Bradberry has been a rock in the secondary. Through two games, the veteran corner has registered nine total tackles, six passes defended and an acrobatic interception. He has earned an 86.0 overall grade from PFF, the second-highest among the league's corners, while receiving an elite 86.1 coverage grade. PFF also named Bradberry it's Defensive Player of the Week for Week 2 after he allowed just one catch for 14 yards on six targets in his 33 coverage snaps, effectively shutting down Allen Robinson.

Martinez has recorded 21 total tackles (14 solo), one sack, two tackles for loss and one quarterback hit, and sits just five total tackles behind Devin White for the league lead. Martinez has earned an impressive 87.2 overall grade from PFF, second-highest among all linebackers, and an outstanding 92.0 run defense grade.

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