For the second time this season, the 49ers enter a week on a positive note.
That positivity looks like it has staying power considering San Francisco’s Week 10 opponent.
Kyle Shanahan and his 49ers (2-7) come off a dominant victory over the hapless Raiders entering a second straight prime-time matchup, this time hosting the New York Giants (1-7), another of the NFL’s most dysfunctional franchises, on Monday night.
On paper the Giants don’t look as inept as the 1-7 record would indicate. Five of their seven losses have been by seven points or less, although a couple drew within double-digits due to garbage time scores. The reason the Giants are imploding this season is their inability to keep quarterback Eli Manning upright.
The offensive line has already allowed 31 sacks this season, more than it did all of 2015 (27) or 2016 (22), and nearly as many as all of 2017 (34). Those sacks have amounted to 231 lost yards, almost half as many as running back Saquon Barkley’s total rushing yards (519). Because the Giants are in a hole on seemingly every offensive possession, Barkley’s incredible rushing ability is rarely used, making a poor offense very one-dimensional.
Basically, they can’t protect the pocket, which creates long downs, so they’re forced to pass, yet they can’t protect.
This creates an ideal cocktail for the 49ers healthy defensive line to sip on, particularly coming off its best performance of the season against Oakland in Week 9.
On the offensive side, Shanahan stated that his quarterback choice will be week-to-week from here on out, adding that he has chosen to give Nick Mullens another start after his extraordinary debut:
“I think the way everyone saw he played, I don’t think it was too tough of a decision. Our team played really well and he played well. It was going to be hard to not give him the opportunity.”
Shanahan believes Mullens will benefit a lot from a normal week of practice:
“Now he gets to sit there. He doesn’t have to cram everything in a day and a half. He’s got the whole week to kind of let it saturate, learn the play calls, spit them out easier, gets to throw some full-speed balls to all our players, where last week there wasn’t one full-speed rep. I think it helps prepare him more and makes him more comfortable going into the game.”
The Giants do present a much tougher test than the Raiders did.
New York has a solid passing defense, giving up 244 yards per game (16th overall) while also allowing the fourth-fewest passing touchdowns (11) this season. Oakland entered Week 10 allowing 263 passing yards per game and has given up the second-most passing touchdowns at 19.
The pressure will be on Matt Breida and Alfred Morris to run effectively and provide balance for Mullens. That’ll be tougher without the speed of Raheem Mostert to assist them. The Giants haven’t allowed many rushing touchdowns (7) but they’re ranked 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game (122.4). That should bode well for the 49ers ground game, which doesn’t necessarily need to get in the end zone, but more so help to keep drives alive.
Should I jump on the Nick Mullens bandwagon already?
I will, hesitantly. Though I will stick with half of my fare now, paying the rest if the wagon gets where it’s supposed to.
I am picking the 49ers this week for what they’re defensive front seven can do. San Francisco has allowed a lot of passing touchdowns (18), but that is partially because the secondary has had to deal with a few injuries through nine weeks. This healthy defensive line will build on its seven-sack performance against Oakland and dominate a horrible Giants offensive line.
DeForest Buckner and company will sack Manning five times; Mullens will throw for 212 yards, two touchdowns and one interception; the 49ers leave Monday night with a 23-18 victory.