San Francisco 49ers 36 – New York Giants 9
After a dominant win at MetLife Stadium over the New York Jets in Week 2, the San Francisco 49ers made the East Coast their home as they prepped for their Week 3 contest against NYG at the same place, same time, a week later. The 0-2 Giants would normally have little-to-no shot against the defending NFC Champions but thanks to a Niners’ injury report that looked like a starting roster, there was some hope they could get a number in the win column by sneaking their way to a victory.
Nick Mullens, a former undrafted free agent with a career record of 3-5 (0-3 on the road), was under center as starting quarterback as Jimmy Garoppolo was out with an ankle injury. Mullens made his second career start at home against NYG in 2018, a game he and the Niners lost 27-23.
He led the 1-1 Niners to an opening drive that put up 3 points on the board via a 52-yard field goal by the ageless Robbie Gould. On the ensuing drive, Daniel Jones was charged with a lost fumble on the Giants opening drive for the second time in as many weeks. This one was on a failed “trick” play where he simply misplaced his pitch to Evan Engram who was coming across the line for a reverse. SF began the drive on the NYG 42-yard line and traveled 28 yards on 12 plays, a theme of the day I will discuss later, and put 3 more points on the board via a 32-yard field goal on a play where NYG safety Jabrill Peppers was injured (he did not return).
Down 6-0, Jones and the offense came back on the field and the first quarter was over after two plays. There were 28 snaps in the first quarter, just 8 of them belonged to NYG. Jones, the NYG leading rusher by a landslide on the day, gained 19 yards, putting them into SF territory for the first time. The offense stalled there after newest Giant Devonta Freeman got his first touches in NYG blue, but Graham Gano nailed a 52-yard field goal to make it a 3-point game. Gould missed a 55-yard attempt on the next drive, giving NYG good field position in which they took advantage of. Gano nailed another long field goal attempt, this one from 42 yards, to tie it up at 6.
The Giants defense was needed here. They needed to make a play, sack the quarterback, or both. Leonard Williams came up with the sack to force a 3rd-and-22 from the SF 44-yard line. The Giants were about to get the ball back with the score tied, as Mullens found tight end Jordan reed for a 7 yard dump off against the NYG prevent defense. However, arguably the most painful mistake of the game gave SF a fresh set of downs rather than a punt. Rookie Darnay Holmes, whom certainly had a game to forget, was flagged for an illegal contact. The Niners got to start over at midfield. Five plays later, Jerick McKinnon was trotting into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. Instead of NYG having the ball tied at 6, they were down 13-6. Then, the bleeding just got worse.
On the second play of the next drive, Jones threw it behind Evan Engram (another theme of the day) and right into the arms of Niners linebacker Fred Warner. This turned into another 3 points for SF via a 26-yard field goal by Gould. This ended the first half, 16-6 San Francisco.
The first possession of the second half when you’re losing is often vital. NYG has shown at least some ability to adjust during halftime and this one started no different. Jones gained 23 yards and 7 yards on two running plays, they converted a 4th-and-2 from midfield, and put themselves into the red zone for the first time via yet another big Jones run, this one for 17 yards. However, that one was nullified by a Darius Slayton hold. NYG shot themselves in the foot, just as a bad team always seems to do. They settled for a 47-yard field goal by Gano which, at least, made it a one score game.
The Niners, also a team that makes adjustments well at halftime, came out with their own tone-setting possession and one-upped NYG. They scored a touchdown on a 19-yard reverse by rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk. It was 23-9 and SF had completely owned the time of possession battle, they had all of the momentum, and NYG was staring 0-3 right in the face. They were faced with a 4th-and-1 from their own 30-yard line. They opted to go for it on a QB sneak that looked bleak to say the least, as SF jammed four defensive linemen as close to each other as possible as if they knew what was coming. The attempt came up just inches short, giving SF the ball just 30 yards away from the end zone. It took just four plays for SF to turn that field position into a touchdown on a 19-yard screen pass to the SF fourth string running back, Jeff Wilson. The SF lead grew to 20 as the game was now entering the 4th quarter.
Following three straight incomplete passes by Jones, SF forced another punt before putting together another marathon drive, this one 15 plays long, that ended with Wilson crossing the goal line again on a 2-yard run. 36-9 with under 4 minutes to play.
The final NYG drive of the day ended in a Darius Slayton fumble, the third NYG turnover of the day. Mullens then went onto take three knees to solidify their JV win over the opposing varsity.
Giants lose 36-9
Daniel Jones: 17-32 / 179 yards / 0 TD – 1 INT
Jones’ brightest impact on the day came on the ground. He gained 49 yards on just 5 carries, the most on the team. Through 3 weeks, Jones has 92 yards on the ground. Not only is he the leading rusher on NYG but he has 14 more yards than EVERY other ball carrier on the team COMBINED. Abysmal. In the air, Jones had a pretty poor day throwing the ball. He was behind his target four times and the most glaring weakness I noted in my scouting report in 2019 is showing up too often. He is late to see things and that half-second hesitation in combination with slightly inaccurate throws is leading to problems. Add in the fact he added two more turnovers to his resume, we are looking at a near-bottom level to his career at this point. It is still early and I look forward to seeing how he bounces back, but he needs to better. There isn’t enough help around him, we all know that. But “keep it simple, stupid”…he needs to be better.
This was a really ugly day for the Giants running back committee. Wayne Gallman had 7 yards on 4 carries and 7 yards on 2 catches. Dion Lewis had 1 catch for 10 yards and a carry that netted nothing. The newly-signed Devonta Freeman tied for the team lead 5 carries and ended up with 10 yards. As I said last week, I wouldn’t expect much out of him for the first 2-3 weeks but I do think NYG is going to get something out of him. He showed some juice on his 3rd-and-1 running attempt and he is a guy who will play with a lot to prove. Make no mistake, he will be the NYG feature back within a month and in a year where it looks like it will be hard to watch, I look forward to that.
-Golden Tate: 5 rec / 36 yards
Tate was one of two players who was targeted 7 times. 18 of his 36 yards came on his first catch, meaning his next 4 catches averaged under 5 yards per. He really needs to be in a more efficient offensive scheme where the timing is better. He can initially get open but defensive backs close the gap on him in a hurry. Combine that with Jones just being a little late to see things, Tate really is close to useless unless this scheme and Jones improve. I wonder if there will be a trade market for him.
-Darius Slayton: 3 rec / 53 yards.
Slayton lost a fumble on the Giants final play. It didn’t impact the game at all but it still goes down in the books as a turnover. I’ll be honest, after a strong Week 1 against Pittsburgh, Slayton hasn’t impressed over the past 2 games. He is still struggling off the line and his playing strength is an issue. He will be the team’s number one guy, but I’ m not sure he is a true number one guy. Add that to the team-needs list.
-Damion Ratley and C.J. Board saw more snaps this week but each saw just 2 targets. Ratley brought in the biggest gain of the day of 29 yards, albeit on the final drive where few-to-nobody cared.
-Evan Engram: 3 rec / 22 yards
Engram came up with two key first down conversions, one of which came on 4th down. He also dropped a pass. Otherwise, a fairly quiet day for him. They haven’t been sending him up the seam much, something I think negates what his true talent is, that is, straight-line burst and speed. I want to see him going downfield more often.
-Kaden Smith had 13 yards on his lone catch. He was on the field for a third of the snaps as NYG continues to be one of the league leaders in multiple-tight end personnel usages. I do think it would be a beneficial idea if these tight ends were better at sustaining blocks in the running game. We know Engram isn’t going to be a factor there, but Smith’s struggles this season, and on Sunday in particular, on the edge have been a key weakness in the team’s running game. Smith allowed a TFL in this one.
-Rookie Andrew Thomas came away with the worst grade of the group. He has weakened as the quality of his opponents have lessened, which is odd. Life as a rookie in the NFL, I suppose as teams get more and more tape to analyze and pick apart. He allowed 3 pressures, 1 sack, and 1 TFL in addition to being flagged for a false start. I tried to really pinpoint where his losses were coming from and my best guess revolves around the coordination, or lack thereof, between his feet and hands. They were not working in unison with one another and it led to some ugly beats. He took a direct helmet hit to his shin late and came off the field, but I don’t think that turns into anything serious. He will be fine. Fellow rookie Matt Peart got his feet wet with a couple uneventful snaps.
-Right Tackle Cameron Fleming allowed 2 pressures, 1 sack, and was beat badly on a running play that led to a TFL. Fleming graded poorly for the third week in a row but as I said prior to the year, expectations for him couldn’t be high. He is a career swing guy and won’t ever be more than that. I am sticking to my belief that Peart will be starting over there by midseason.
-Inside, once again, was a less than admirable performance. Will Hernandez allowed 3 pressures, way too many for a guard. Two of them were created by stunts/twists where he just can’t seem to move well enough laterally to catch up. This has been an issue for him since Week 1 of 2018. Nick Gates and Kevin Zeitler stayed off of the stat sheet but neither even reached an average grade. Gates gave up too much ground and was found touching nobody on far too many plays. Zeitler, for the third week, looks overly slow and stiff. He can’t get across guys and that is a major reason why this running game just can’t seem to get going. The backside pursuit is always there because Zeitler can’t cut anyone off. I’m alarmed by this.
-Lorenzo Carter appears to be one of the very few bright spots on the team. By no means is he filling up the stat sheet but for three straight games he is making an impact. He had a pass break up, a TFL, and a pressure to go along with his 2 tackles. There is still a ways to go here, but one positive gain I’ve seen with him is what I call contact presence. He is making his presence felt when he comes in contact with ball carriers and blockers alike.
-Oshane Ximines seems to be ahead of Markus Golden on the depth chart for good. He finished with 5 tackles but also missed 1. He was uneventful as a pass rusher but there was a play where he, literally, sent Niners tackle Mike McGlinchey airborne and onto the ground. That was a really nice display of power by him. Golden looks worse than we have seen him throughout his NYG tenure. He lacks juice, doesn’t have secondary moves, and gets swallowed by blockers in the running game.
-Leonard Williams put in a really solid effort from start to finish. Say what you want about the trade (something that can’t be held against Williams), he is constantly on of the highest-effort players on the defense. In addition, he ended with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, and 1 pressure. When this kid gets single-teamed, he almost always wins. This defense needs to find a way to get him on an island against blockers more often.
-Dalvin Tomlinson finished with a positive grade as well. He had 5 tackles, 2 TFL, and 2 pressures. His north/south game has looked outstanding. He gets out of his stance in a hurry with powerful movement and punch. He still looks too stiff when adjusting and reacting laterally but you can’t ask for too much here. Really solid player that does a ton of dirty work but now he is consistently stepping up to make impact plays.
-Dexter Lawrence had a rough game. When SF began to run the ball well, Lawrence was often the culprit. He usually holds his ground well but he got shifted side to side too often, opening up running lanes.
-If there is one MVP to the season so far, it is unequivocally Blake Martinez. He finished with 9 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, and 1 pressure. He fits the defensive front seven like a glove. A guy who reads the initial action so well, scrapes over the top, and knows when to fill. His best trait we’ve seen on display, besides intelligence, is how good of a finisher he is. When he gets there, the play is over.
-Kyler Fackrell and Devante Downs may not play the same exact position or role, but no matter where you want to label them, both struggled in this one. Downs was torched in coverage several times. He just has no feel in that department. Fackrell added 4 tackles and physical play but also missed 2. He had zero success as a pass rusher.
-James Bradberry, the other free agent signing who has paid early dividends to this Giants team, finished with 3 tackles and 3 pass break ups. His length and timing have been superb. He looks like a keeper. Logan Ryan had an up-and-down game with 2 pass break ups, a QB hit, and 7 tackles. He is a physical guy. However, he missed 2 tackles and got caught in no-man’s land in coverage on more than one occasion.
-The rest of the cornerback group was maddening to watch. Darnay Holmes had an awful day. He was targeted multiple times on 3rd down and SF was a near-100% success rate when throwing at him. He doesn’t have the speed to react physically and I don’t see him making any quality reads.
-Isaac Yiadom really hurt this defense in the second half. After a nice pass break up in the end zone early, he was allowing so much separation underneath and SF just nickel-and-dimed their way up the field because of it. They didn’t attempt one deep ball the entire game, yet Yiadom was playing like he was scared to get beat deep. He had a 3rd-and-2 assignment where he allowed 9 yards between him and the line of scrimmage post-snap with no underneath help. The result? Easy first down. He did this twice. Unacceptable from a veteran.
-While Julian Love did lead the team with 11 tackles, I thought he played poorly. Safeties need to take the right angles when pursuing to the outside. He didn’t. One of them resulted in a McKinnon touchdown. He lacks presence as a tackler and he doesn’t seem to get to where he needs to be in coverage. Time for him to grow up. If he is going to play the run like that, he needs to make up for it by making plays in coverage.
-Jabrill Peppers left the game early with an ankle injury.
-K Graham Gano: 3/3 (Made 52, 42, 47)
-P Riley Dixon: 1 punt / 54.0 avg / 54.0 net
-LB Blake Martinez, DT Leonard Williams, K Graham Gano
-OT Andrew Thomas, LB Devante Downs, CB Darnay Holmes
3 THOUGHTS ON SF
- I can’t give enough credit to this organization as a whole, notable their Head Coach and General Manager. There is something to those two guys (Shanahan and Lynch) starting their tenure with the team at the same time. Success can be, and has been, had in different ways when it comes to the General Manager/Head Coach relationship, but I think the ideal way to set this up is to have them start the new vision at the same moment. These guys are on the same line of the same page every week of every year. Respect.
- When you have such a deep roster filled with elite level talents (Kittle/Bosa/Warner/Williams to name a few) and they are backed up by quality players you draft in all rounds, it opens the door for risk taking on oft-injured players. Some teams do it and hope to get lucky that these guys come in and revert to their former every-down ways. Not elite personnel decision makers. The Niners took injury related risks on TE Jordan Reed, CB Jason Verrett, RB Jerick McKinnon, and OT Trent Williams. If they pan out, their team has an overly-stacked feel to it. If they don’t pan out, their fall back plans are just fine.
- Can SF be one of the rare teams that has playoff success following a Super Bowl loss? More often than not, a team that loses the Super Bowl regresses a lot. This team lost a few big parts from their NFC Championship team, but I think these guys are heading toward 11-12 wins at least. Their personnel is good and deep and their coaching is, literally, top shelf.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
- I thought about this for a while and confirmed it in my own mind. In my opinion, this is the worst loss I’ve seen NYG have in over a decade. Now, I know this NYG team has low expectations but they were up against a team that was missing or lost their #1 QB, #1 and #2 RB, #1 and #2 TE, #1 WR, #1 OC, # 1 and #3 EDGE, #1 DT, #2 LB, and #1, #2 CB, and #3 CB. To put that into perspective, lets act like the Giants were playing without Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Dion Lewis, Evan Engram, Kaden Smith, Sterling Shepard, Nick Gates, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Leonard Williams, Devante Downs (maybe not a bad thing), James Bradberry, Logan Ryan, and Corey Ballentine. Imagine having none of those guys. Then going across the country and beating a team 36-9. SF didn’t punt the ball once. Last time they did that, Steve Young was their QB and Jerry Rice was their top wideout. They had drives of 10, 12, 12, and 15. They were successful on 67% of their 3rd downs. The drives they didn’t reach 10+ plays were simply because they scored or they ran out of time. It doesn’t get much worse than that in my book.
- If the Giants continue on this path (heading toward one of the league’s worst records) and Daniel Jones remains a turnover machine, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be banging the table for one of the likely elite QB prospects coming out. In today’s NFL, having a true stud back there is near-vital to sustained success. While one could make the argument that NYG isn’t ready for a “start-over” at that position, I lean the other way. There are pieces in place (OT, RB, LB, CB) and they will have plenty of money to spend. The draft is a long ways off but it hard to neglect the mere thought.
- Now, back to some reassuring talk. We knew this season was likely a long shot for NYG. A first time head coach. A young roster that we knew had several holes. A quarterback who had yet to start 16 games. We want this season to show eventual signs of progress by the time January rolls around. We want to see some young players step up who they can use to build around for the future. Look at the Dolphins a year ago, who started a new tenure with a young, former Patriots assistant as well. They began 0-3 with a deficit of 133-16 (NYG is currently at 79-38) . It didn’t get much better until the second half of the season. By no means are they a contender yet but they are building pieces and finding talent to use down the road. They went on a spending spree this past offseason and should have their shiny new QB ready to rock next season around a solid roster. My comparison is this: NYG fans are going to have to accept poor football this year in all likelihood. Maybe the NFC East being down can keep things interesting, but the point remains, they are 1-2 years away unless they are miraculously lucky. That is simply the truth and the way it is. Everybody is sick of hearing “be patient”…but when Judge was brought in, that was the number one thought that came to mind. We are in the process. Look for the small positives that this team can feed off of in the coming years.