NY Giants Week Three: 5 Questions with the enemy

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 11: Carl Banks #58 of the New York Giants tackles Ron Heller #89 of the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL football game September 11, 1988 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Banks played for the Giants from 1984-92. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 11: Carl Banks #58 of the New York Giants tackles Ron Heller #89 of the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL football game September 11, 1988 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Banks played for the Giants from 1984-92. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

The NY Giants take on the San Fransisco 49ers on Sunday, and to get a better idea of what to expect we reached out to our sister site – Niner Noise – to get some answers.

The NY Giants are taking on the San Fransisco 49ers this Sunday in a must-win game as Big Blue looks to avoid dropping to 0-3. There have been 176 teams that started 0-3 in NFL history and only six of them have ended up making the playoffs — just 3.4%.

In other words, if the NY Giants don’t figure out a way to get this win the season is pretty much over.

Both teams are coming off week’s that saw key players go down with major injuries, although the good news for the NY Giants is that they should be able to start to generate a running game against this banged-up 49ers defense that was already struggling in rushing defense.

I had the opportunity to talk with Peter Panacy, the Site Expert and Editor at the 49ers FanSided site, Niner Noise.

We had a broad conversation about both teams, what to expect this Sunday, and much more.

Let’s break down some of the things we discussed below.

GMEN HQ: The 49ers saw both Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman go down this week with multi-week injuries. With both players out, how would you expect the run game to look different this week? How do you expect Kyle Shanahan to approach the run game with Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson? Will it be a platoon with split carries or will there be a lead dog who becomes the lead back?

Niner Noise: Kyle Shanahan has traditionally gone with the hot hand, as he did with Raheem Mostert towards the end of 2019 and into the playoffs, although a rotation has always been key.

With Mostert and Coleman both down, one might expect a much heavier workload for McKinnon, who has flashed in both games so far this season after missing the last two years recovering from a 2018 ACL tear.

But it’s likely Wilson gets some calls on short-down carries here and there where he flashed at times last season, too. Wilson’s pass-catching skills are awfully underrated, so it’s not like that aspect will force Shanahan to remove the runner from his game plan.

I’d fully expect the 49ers to call up the undrafted rookie, JaMycal Hasty, from the practice squad before Week 3. Hasty, who is the epitome of a scatback and a reliable receiving option out of the backfield, impressed in training camp.

There simply wasn’t room for him on the 53-man roster before the injuries, though.

GMEN HQ: The 49ers saw quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo leave last week’s game in NY with a high ankle sprain. With his status in question, how will Kyle Shanahan adapt his playcalling and how will the offense look differently without Garoppolo? What do you expect to see differently if Nick Mullens starts? Who on the offense will need to step their game up to supplement the offense with Mullens starting his first game this year or with a hobbled Garrappolo?

Niner Noise: Neither Mullens nor Garoppolo have cannons for an arm, so the short and intermediate-area passing games are still going to be a focus. The key will be allowing San Francisco’s receivers to get open in space, then pick up extra yards after the catch. It’s been a staple of Shanahan’s offense since 2017.

Considering the Niners’ previous complaints about the field conditions at MetLife Stadium, I think it doubtful the Niners risk added injury to Garoppolo by starting him. He might be active, just held in reserve to Mullens. But that’s it.

Mullens isn’t even as good as a deep passer compared to Garoppolo. But if there’s one area where the backup exceeds the starter, it’s in his delivery. Mullens gets the ball out awfully quick, cutting down on the time in the pocket and avoiding those sacks Jimmy G seems to take on a weekly basis.

That could prove to be a major factor for Sunday’s game.

To make life easier for Mullens, the run game will have to be on point. But getting San Francisco’s tight ends involved, namely George Kittle (if healthy) and Jordan Reed, could prove to be a massive difference-maker for the quarterback.

GMEN HQ: Let’s talk about the NY Giants’ defense. It’s been only two games, but what are the biggest strengths and weaknesses you’ve seen from this side of the ball? And if you were the SF 49ers, how would you go about attacking the NY Giants defense this Sunday?

Niner Noise: If I’m the Niners, I’m eyeing three players — cornerback James Bradberry and linebackers Blake Martinez and Lorenzo Carter — as the difference makers.

Bradberry is likely to be assigned the 49ers’ top wide receiver weapon, whoever that winds up being on Sunday with Deebo Samuel still out. Martinez, meanwhile, flies around the ball and has regularly been a quality playmaker his entire career. Staying away from those three would be a great start.

As far as finding the weaknesses, I’d start by executing more of those outside-zone runs to get the NY Giants’ defensive linemen moving from side to side. This could be done by the complex and innovative bootlegs and rollouts, and Mullens hasn’t had too many issues doing those over his brief career.

"If I’m the Niners, I’m eyeing three players — cornerback James Bradberry and linebackers Blake Martinez and Lorenzo Carter — as the difference makers."

As far as the passing game goes, look for either Kittle or Reed to make some plays down the seams where they can do damage. I’d also look at targeting Big Blue’s nickel cornerback Darnay Holmes, perhaps using veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and his size as a big-bodied slot, something Shanahan did with him back in 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons.

GMEN HQ: The NY Giants have seen their offense take major blows in the form of injuries to Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley. With both key weapons out, which players on the Big Blue offense do you think will become the center of attention for the 49ers?

Niner Noise: If I’m the NY Giants, I make tight end Evan Engram the focal point from this point forward. Tight ends are a young quarterback’s best friend, and Daniel Jones could work on developing that relationship much more with Barkley out. Doing so could turn Engram’s 2020 campaign into a true turning-point year where he becomes a major X-factor and weapon.

It’s been nice to see wide receiver Darius Slayton involved in the offense more after a productive 2019 campaign. I’d expect him to be a factor, too, but the smart money would be on Engram getting the primary looks.

GMEN HQ: What do you think are some key X-factors to Week 3 for both teams? If the Giants win, why? And if the Niners win, how do they go about doing it? Any early score prediction?

Niner Noise: The obvious point for both teams: stay healthy.

San Francisco and New York just saw two of their top performers, Saquon Barkley and Nick Bosa, go down with season-ending ACL tears. Getting away with a clean slate of health in Week 3 would almost be a win in of itself for both teams.

For the Giants, it’ll be important to maintain momentum by not turning the ball over, especially if they can sustain drives over the second half and tire out a thin and injury-depleted Niners defense. While New York’s ground game might be in question with Barkley out, running the ball against San Francisco has proven to be effective over the last year-plus, and one might expect that to continue into 2020 as well.

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For the 49ers, the offense still revolves around the ground game, which was the case in Weeks 1 and 2. While effective, the losses of Coleman and Mostert could be massively worrisome if the Niners suffer yet again another injury here. Mullens hasn’t exactly been asked to carry the offense on his shoulders, and the lack of thump San Francisco has at wide receiver right now could prove to be costly in games like these.

The Niners’ defense is still deep, particularly at linebacker and even partially within the secondary. The only question is whether or not they tire out and/or can’t prevent New York from converting on third downs throughout the game. If that’s the case, the Giants could pull off the home upset.