The Giants come off their bye week to take on San Francisco on Monday night. The Niners also had extended preparation time coming off a Thursday night win against the Raiders last week.
When The 49ers Have The Ball…
The Spotlight: Quarterback Nick Mullens
There's only one game of tape to look at for Nick Mullens, and because of the nature of the 49ers' blowout victory against the Raiders, he only had to throw 22 passes. He played with the lead for nearly the entire game and was never asked to come out of his comfort zone.
The 49ers played with the idea in mind to protect a quarterback making his first-ever career start. He completed a lot of short passes on slants and other simple throws to wide open receivers. They used him in play action and bootlegs to simplify his reads. He only had to complete a couple smaller window throws further than a few yards down the field.
On the throws Mullens did complete (16-22, 262 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT), he was accurate and seemed to know where to go with the football. Mullens' two chunk plays, a 71-yard completion to tight end George Kittle and a 53-yarder to wide receiver Richie James, came on slant passes with long runs after the catch.
Mullens did show a couple of instances where he threw off his back foot under pressure, and it will be interesting to see how he's able to play if he is playing with a multiple-score deficit. He only threw one pass last week that traveled more than 20 yards in the air.
He had a great game against Oakland, he played very well, and we just have to keep an eye out on him. We know he’s going to be the starting quarterback for those guys, and we’ve just got to key on what he likes to do, what he sees, and he likes to read. Safety Landon Collins
The Matchup: Tight End George Kittle vs. Giants LB's and Safeties
Kittle has been the 49ers' number one weapon all season long. A 5th round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Kittle is a classic two-way tight end from Iowa who can play as a receiver or as a blocker in the run game. He leads the 49ers in receptions with 41 (17 more than the second highest player – Pierre Garcon) and in yards from scrimmage, with 692 receiving yards.
The 49ers will use Kittle both as an in-line blocker and split out off the line of scrimmage. They'll target him in short areas off play action, in intermediate areas on slants and crossers in the middle of the field and down the field on seam routes. He has the speed to create separation, and the height at 6-4 to make plays above defenders.
49ers Schemes and Tendencies
• Giants fans should be very familiar with what a Kyle Shanahan offense looks like from his time with the Redskins, Falcons, and the 49ers last season. He uses a lot of zone principles in the run game, and utilizes a ton of play action off those runs. He will get his quarterback on the move and use play action to scheme receivers open down the field. It is a tough scheme to defend and requires a lot of discipline from opposing defense.
We’re playing an offense that whether it’s (Marquise) Goodwin and his speed on the perimeter, (Pierre) Garçon and his route running ability, (George) Kittle at the tight end position. (Matt) Breida is a tough running back, have a lot of respect for the way he carries the ball. Doesn’t matter who’s at the quarterback position. Those are the guys that they’re going to feature in the offense and coach (Kyle) Shanahan has done a great job, going back to Atlanta, keeping you on your heels a little bit with lots of motions. Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher
• The 49ers gave fullback Kyle Juszczyk a big contract in 2017 and they utilize him in several ways. His versatility as a receiver allows the 49ers to play more 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE) than any team on the Giants schedule so far this season. They will line him up in the backfield or split him out as a receiver, and run him on routes not only in short areas, but also down the field. Off play action passes, he will sprint down the field after faking a lead block, and is frequently targeted on deep throws. He's also a very good lead blocker in the run game. The Giants need to watch him closely.
• The 49ers wide receivers are good players. Pierre Garcon is a veteran who runs good routes and catches the ball, even though he lacks over-the-top speed at this point in his career. Marquise Goodwin is their most dynamic perimeter player, but he has been slowed this year by hamstring and quad injuries. Richie James had his coming out party last week as a slot receiver, with two caches for 60 yards.
Inside the Numbers: The 49ers rely upon yards after catch for a lot of their gains in the passing game. Their 1,101 YAC yards are the 8th most in the league.
• The 49ers have used a running back by committee approach this season, partly because of injury. Matt Breida is their number one back with 531 rushing yards (5.5 yards per carry), but shoulder and ankle injuries have made his availability a question mark. He is only 5-9 and 190 pounds but has a lot of speed and big-play potential. With Raheem Mostert getting placed on injured reserve after last week's game, Alfred Morris will be Breida's complementary back. In classic Kyle Shanahan style, the 49ers like to run outside zone stretch plays. Setting the edge will be very important.
Inside the Numbers: With his speed, Breida has been successful running to the edges. He has 27 carries for 187 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry to the edges of the defense. The 49ers have the most success running to the right. According to Pro Football Focus, when the 49ers run to the right guard or further outside, they've gained 472 yards on 75 carries (6.2 yards per carry).
• The 49ers offensive line features two excellent tackles with veteran left tackle Joe Staley and rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Staley has allowed just three sacks and one quarterback hit this season. McGlinchey has allowed 4 sacks and three quarterback hits and has been a dominant run blocker. Mike Person and Laken Tomlinson play guard, flanking familiar face Weston Richburg at center.
Inside the Numbers: The 49ers run game has been feast or famine for much of the season. They lead the NFL in runs of 10 yards or more with 41, but also have the second-most runs of negative yardage with 28.
Keys for the Giants Defense
1. Get a lead and stop the run to put Nick Mullens in obvious passing situations
2. Be disciplined versus play action
3. Tackle to prevent yardage after the catch
When the Giants Have The Ball…
The Spotlight: Defensive Tackle DeForest Buckner
Buckner is one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the NFL. The seventh overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft is 6-7, 300 pounds and plays the three technique defensive tackle position. His length gives defenders a lot of problems, as does his athleticism. He'll use swim moves and his quickness to get around opposing guards.
According to Pro Football Focus, Buckner lines up at right defensive tackle 60% of the time. He has six sacks, five quarterback hits and 23 quarterback hurries through nine games. His effectiveness is not affected by whether he lines up on the right or left side of the defense.
Buckner isn't quite as consistent against the run. His lithe frame and height can sometimes lead to leverage issues against thicker and stockier offensive linemen if he fails to use his length to keep them off him.
The Matchup: Cornerback Richard Sherman vs. Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Despite suffering an Achilles tendon tear last November, Sherman has returned and is playing at a high level as the 49ers best cover cornerback. Sherman will play a lot of man to man and Cover Three on his side of the field. He has always been a physical player who excels at finding the ball in the air and making a play on it.
Sherman might not win a straight-up foot race against some of the faster receivers in the league, but his technique, physicality and smarts gives him a chance to succeed against anyone. He is used to blitz off the corner, and he has the physicality to get the quarterback to the ground.
Inside the Numbers: Sherman leads the NFL in interceptions (32) and passes defended (102) since 2011 and has allowed a passer rating of 52.4 (and a 48% completion percentage) on passes thrown in his direction. Beckham and Sherman have played once before, in Week 10 of 2014. Beckham caught nine passes for 108 yards.
I like that Sherm came back and he’s playing at a high level. Excited to go against him. We went against each other my rookie year. This is a guy who I’ve been at the Pro Bowl with, a guy who’s big brother-ish, and he kind of gives me the advice and he showed me the ropes, and all those things. Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
49ers Scheme and Tendencies
• The 49ers run a 4-3 scheme. They rotate their defensive linemen in an attempt to send waves of rushers at the opposing quarterback. They will line their ends up wide and use stunts and twists to create movement to the quarterback. They will blitz to get additional pressure on the quarterback.
• San Francisco is primarily a single high safety team, with Jimmie Ward playing deep, and last week, with Tyvis Powell playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Ahkello Witherspoon, a 23-year old 3rd round pick in 2017, plays opposite Richard Sherman, with 5-9 K'waun Williams playing in the slot. The 49ers will play multiple coverages. They will switch between man, Cover 3, and some combination split man/zone concepts on each side of the field.
Inside the Numbers: The 49ers have allowed only 45.5% of third down conversions of fewer than four yards this year, tied for second best in the league. They are tied for third best in the league on third and one defense with just a 50% conversion rate against them.
• The 49ers have other talented defensive linemen the Giants have to worry about, even if they don't have a true edge rusher. Arik Armstead, a 2015 first round pick, is powerful at 6-8, 280 pounds and can play both inside and outside. He has three sacks, five quarterback hits and 16 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Solomon Thomas, their 2017 first round pick, is still in a rotation at defensive end and is best at defending the run.
Inside the Numbers: The 49ers have been great this year at preventing long runs. Despite not yet taking their bye, only five teams have allowed fewer than their three runs of 20 yards or more. Only seven teams have allowed fewer than their 23 runs of 10 yards or more. It is something to watch given the Giants dependence on big runs for their production on the ground this season.
• In his first action of the year last week after coming off IR from a hamstring tear, Dekoda Watson was a difference maker as a pass rusher. Slimmed down after adopting a vegan diet, he played a lot of right end and tallied two sacks and four quarterback hurries in only 13 pass rush snaps. He is someone to keep an eye on as a pass rusher this week.
• Fred Warner, the 49ers 3rd round pick in the 2018 draft, is their starting middle linebacker. He played mostly coverage in college, but at just 6-3, 226 pounds, has played 591 of 597 snaps for the 49ers this season (they let him rest the final six snaps of last week's game against the Raiders). He leads the team in tackles and has good speed to work sideline to sideline.
Inside the Numbers: The Niners' peripheral numbers all say they should be better than 2-7, except for one: their turnover ratio. The 49ers are minus-13 this year with 18 giveaways and just 5 takeaways.
Keys For Giants Offense
1. Protect the QB
2. Win the turnover battle
3. Score in the Red Zone
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants take on the 49ers Monday night.