The Giants head to San Francisco on a short week against one of the most talented teams in football. There are no shortage of matchups that could turn the game, but here are two that should be top of mind for fans heading into Thursday night:
Christian McCaffrey vs. Entire Giants Defense
I would love to select a single player here for the Giants to focus on for this matchup, but I can't. Why? Christian McCaffrey lines up everywhere and can be used as a running back or receiver. Depending on where he lines up – and what kind of defense the Giants are lined up in – he could be the responsibility of a linebacker, safety, or cornerback.
So far this season, McCaffrey has lined up 93 times in the backfield (including once as a fullback), 15 in the slot, and five as an outside wide receiver. The snaps at all three positions are almost identical in the 49ers' first two games.
McCaffrey was equally effective in both games, gaining 169 scrimmage yards in Week 1 and 135 in Week 2. He leads the league in rushing with 152 yards in Week 1 and another 116 in Week 2. He had a 65-yard run against the Steelers and a 51-yarder against the Rams. His six runs of 10+ yards are tied for second-most in the league behind only Bijan Robinson, who has seven. He is tied for the league lead of 20-yard rushing plays, and leads outright as the only player with two rushes of at least 40 yards.
His advanced numbers are just as impressive. According to Pro Football Focus, he is tied for sixth in the league in missed tackles forced per rush attempt (.27) and leads the NFL in yards after contact per rushing attempt (5.1) among players with at least 25 rushing attempts. He has been a true workhorse, leading the league with 45 carries.
Coach Kyle Shanahan has incorporated more gap scheme into his gameplans the last couple seasons, but in the first two games of this season, outside zone has been the predominant run of choice (45.6 percent of their runs). According to PFF, they are gaining 7.4 yards per carry on those plays.
According to PFF, the Giants defense has allowed 4.1 yards per carry on 15 outside zone plays this season. The Giants have struggled the most on counter plays, allowing 7.2 yards per carry. It is important to note that sample sizes are small early in the season as a big run here or there can sway the stats.
As a receiver, McCaffrey has caught six passes on eight targets for 36 yards and one first down. He is tough to cover for linebackers on angle or option routes in the middle of the field with a two-way go, which can make it difficult to play man defense against him with base fronts. When he was in Carolina, the Giants used safety Xavier McKinney as a matchup against him.
The Giants have played much more zone to start the season than they played last year. They have in been Cover-1 or Cover-0 32.2 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus, which is the sixth-highest rate in the league. They are in Cover-3 34.7 percent of the time, which is the 10th-most frequent rate in the league. Last season, the Giants were on Cover-1 or Cover-0 on 39 percent of their snaps and used Cover-3 on just 25 percent of their defensive snaps.
It will be a chess match between Shanahan and Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale as the former moves McCaffrey around the formation and the latter calls his coverages to make sure he does not get matchups that can be exploited.
View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.
49ers Pass Rush vs. Giants Offensive Line
Nick Bosa's snap count jumped from Week 1 to Week 2 (35 to 63) as did his production, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the quick turnaround from Sunday to Thursday after playing his full allotment of snaps for the first time this season.
Bosa still leads the 49ers with nine total pressures and a 28.9 percent win rate (fifth-best in the NFL) while splitting his snaps nearly evenly on the left and right sides of the defense. Eagles import Javon Hargrave is not far behind with a 21 percent pass rush win rate and eight total pressures, according to PFF. Second-year edge defender Drake Jackson also has eight pressures (and an 18 percent win rate), while defensive tackles Arik Armstead has seven pressures and Javon Kinlaw has six. Jackson leads the team with three sacks, and is tied for second with three quarterback hits.
Overall, the 49ers' 41 percent pressure rate is sixth-best in the NFL despite blitzing at the ninth-lowest rate in the NFL (22.6 percent). The 49ers do use stunts just over 30 percent of the time, which is the 13th-highest rate in the NFL, according to PFF. They have the seventh-highest quick pressure rate in the NFL (29.6 percent).
After allowing a league high 67.3 pressure percentage in Week 1, the Giants' pass protection improved immensely in their Week 2 matchup against the Cardinals, allowing the seventh-lowest pressure percentage (17.8). Their eight pressures allowed was tied for seventh-fewest in the league. The improvement happened after a change in the lineup in Week 2, partly forced by injury.
If Andrew Thomas is able to return from his hamstring injury, it is possible Josh Ezeudu would kick in to left guard with Ben Bredeson unlikely to pass the concussion protocol on a short week. Otherwise, Ezeudu would stay out at left tackle. John Michael Schmitz, Markus McKethan and Evan Neal are likely to comprise the middle and right side of the Giants' offensive line.