The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers sustained injuries to key players last week, but in the NFL, the show goes on.
With names like Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Nick Bosa, and Solomon Thomas landing on injured reserve just this week alone, both teams will have to adjust in preparation for their Week 3 meeting on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Whoever does that best can come away with a win.
For the Giants, it would be the first win of the Joe Judge era, which began with losses to Pittsburgh and Chicago. For the 49ers, it would mean a 2-1 start in their defense of the conference crown.
"Obviously, we're playing one of the greatest historical franchises in the National Football League," Judge said. "This is a team that obviously dominated through the 1980s and have had continued success throughout. They had success in the 90s as well as the 2000s. They play a very explosive brand of football."
View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.
Here are three keys to victory for the Giants:
The 49ers are one of three teams in the NFL (Rams and Vikings) to score on each of their opening possessions in the first two games, coming away with a 52-yard Robbie Gould field goal in Week 1 and an 80-yard touchdown run by Raheem Mostert on the first play from scrimmage last week against the Jets. In 2019, when they reached the Super Bowl, the 49ers scored 54 points on their opening possessions, tied with Kansas City and Oakland for the second-most in the league. Baltimore led with 64.
"[Head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] does a tremendous job offensively of really building this team to expose your weaknesses," Judge said. "It's one of those deals, you watch Kyle's games, you can tell right away what he thinks about a team based on how he game plans and goes at you early in the game. This is a fast-start team that doesn't wait to start putting points on the board. They're very explosive off the bat scoring on the first drive. They do a tremendous job of that."
A slow start dogged the Giants last week in Chicago, where they were shut out 17-0 in the first half. The Giants flipped the script and blanked the Bears in the third and fourth quarters, but Big Blue's 13 points were not enough to get out of the hole.
Stop the run.
The 49ers' defense gets a lot of attention, but don't forget their offense in 2019 ranked first in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (23), second in points per game (29.9) and rushing yards per game (144.1), and fourth in total offense (381.1 yards per game). They finished the regular season with 479 total points, tied for the second-most in franchise history and the most since 1994 (505). Also worth noting, this is the franchise of Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Steve Young. San Francisco also had 13 different players with at least one touchdown reception on the season, which tied the NFL record for the most players with a touchdown reception in a single season.
But it all starts with the run game, Judge said.
San Francisco uses it to set up the play-action and then hit explosive passes downfield. The 49ers are dealing with injuries on offense as much as they are defense. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle), Mostert (knee) and fellow running back Tevin Coleman (knee) did not practice to start the week. Backup Nick Mullens will start at quarterback. Mullens started a 2018 meeting with the Giants. He threw one touchdown and two interceptions before the Giants won on a last-minute touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Sterling Shepard. Bottling up the run game and making the 49ers one-dimensional is the way to go.
"First off on Mullens, one thing he does an extremely good job of is you can spread the field out with him," Judge said. "He gets the ball out of his hand extremely fast. He's a guy who 'turns two,' as we say. The ball hits his hand, ball is coming out and he's getting it to the receiver. He has very good anticipation, he does a good job pre-snap really reading the defense, knowing where his receivers are going to be. He's a tough, gritty dude. He obviously had some success for them in the past when he's had to play."
Daniel Jones can't try to do too much.
The Giants have turned over the ball four times through two games, tied for third-most in the league, and they have all come from quarterback Daniel Jones (three interceptions and one fumble lost). Complicating matters is the loss of running back Saquon Barkley, who is out for the season due to a torn ACL, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who will miss no fewer than three games after being placed on injured reserve with turf toe. Still, the Giants don’t want Jones to try to be a one-man band.
"We have a lot of guys who can make plays," Jones said. "It's about everyone doing what they have to do to execute as an offense. That's the way we are going to be most effective. It's not any one guy, it's not a couple guys. It's all of us executing to put the ball into position to score points to make those explosive plays and keep drives going. It's not one guy or two guys, it's the group stepping up and I'm confident we'll be able to do that."
On the other side, San Francisco knows the Giants have plenty of other options on offense.
"Well, Saquon is a great player," Shanahan said. "Anytime you have a great player like that, a great talent, it's always a huge difference not having him in. Very similar to what they're looking at probably with our defense too and us losing a great player like Nick. There are similar issues in that, but they've got a lot of other really good players on their offense just like we have a lot of other really good players on our defense. I mean, they've got a tight end [Evan Engram] who's as good as anyone in this game, I think their quarterback can play at a very high level and looks like a definite Top-10 pick and plays like it, and is only going to get better throughout his career."