Giants vs. 49ers
Why is Eli still starting?
There’s been a lot of clamoring in New York for QB Eli Manning to be benched in favor of fourth round draft pick QB Kyle Lauletta. “It’s a lost season, why are we still putting Eli out there instead of seeing what the kid’s made of?” There’s always the claim that they don’t want to start the rookie unless he’s ready, but there’s also an element of knowing the team is not often in position to win with Eli under center, and why even try to better position yourself to win with the number one draft pick on the line?
Can Barkley finish as the #1 RB for Week 10?
Had Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey not scored three touchdowns in Thursday’s game, totaling 31+ points in all formats, I think I would have been more inclined to say that RB Saquon Barkley could finish as the top back. San Francisco’s run defense is better than I would have expected for a 2-7 team, coming in at #19 by the Football Outsiders, and they’re also a top 15 defense at containing opposing backs in the passing game. Despite the matchup being less favorable than it would have seemed, Barkley has one of the safest floors in football (has not scored less than 20 points in PPR, and his best game of the season (37.9 PPR points) came against an Eagles defense comparably ranked at containing RBs. I would say his chances of finishing as the #1 RB are about 3%, which is more optimistic than IBM Watson’s probability.
Other than Odell, is there a Giants pass catcher primed for a big game?
This is not a dismissal of the 49ers ability to contain WR1’s, they’re actually the 11th best team in the league at covering them, but WR Odell Beckham Jr. is just one of those guys in the elite tier of receivers who will produce regardless of opponent. Beckham isn’t guaranteed to have the best game though, as San Francisco ranks 25th at defending WR2’s, so WR Sterling Shepard could be in line for his fifth game with at least 75 receiving yards this season. The 9ers are not the best at defending tight ends either, so there’s a chance TE Evan Engram has the game we’ve all been waiting for him to have since Week 2 in Dallas, but I’d rather bet on Shepard being the beta to Odell’s alpha.
BOOM: WR Sterling Shepard
BUST: TE Evan Engram
SLEEPER: QB Eli Manning
Is Nick Mullens for real?
QB Nick Mullens gets a chance to prove his historic debut against Oakland was not a fluke. A favorite of 49ers’ quarterbacks coach Rick Scangarello, who pushed for the team to sign Mullens during the draft process, Mullens showed great comfort in HC Kyle Shanahan’s system. Shanahan is notorious for giving his starters nearly all the reps in practice to ensure precision and timing, so Mullens’ prolific performance last Thursday becomes all the more impressive when one considers he received very few practice reps and little more than a half-speed walk-through in practice on a short week before his debut in that mid-week game. Against the New York Giants this week, Mullens had extra time to establish some chemistry with his pass catchers. Mullens is a flawed prospect (he would have been drafted otherwise), but he’s clearly a good fit in Shanahan’s offense and can operate the scheme as well as injured backup QB C.J. Beathard. The Giants’ defense is mostly a middle-of-the road unit, allowing 244 Yds/G to opposing passers. They’ve also allowed the 6th most TDs to opposing backs (11). However, they struggle to generate much pressure up front – their 10 sacks are the second lowest total in all of football. Mullens should be working with a clean pocket for most of the night, and Shanahan should be able to coach Mullens up for a fine follow-up performance.
Will this be Matt Breida’s true breakout?
RB Raheem Mostert had really begun to carve out a productive role for himself in this backfield, but his broken arm against Oakland prematurely ended his season, leaving starting RB Matt Breida as the biggest beneficiary. RB Alfred Morris is averaging a middling 3.5 Yds/A, showing coaches that he deserves less and less touches every week. If Breida wasn’t banged up and Mostert out for the year, Morris would be riding the bench as a 3rd string back. Instead, he will probably get a handful of carries to spell Breida. The matchup is highly favorable for Breida with the Giants’ defense allowing 4.5 Yds/A and 122.4 Yds/G on the ground and traded away its best run defender in DL Damon Harrison. Given Mullens is still an undrafted rookie playing in only his second career start, expect the 49ers to lean on the running game and try to simplify things for the young quarterback as much as possible.
Can Mullens help the receivers find consistency?
It’s entirely possible. The one thing Mullens was able to do that Beathard could not – play a clean game and not turn the ball over. WRs Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, and TE George Kittle, led the team in target shares last week, so look for Mullens to keep targeting the biggest names the 49ers have left on offense. Garcon can’t separate much at this stage of his career, but with the Giants’ secondary struggling somewhat, Shanahan should have no trouble scheming Garcon open enough for Mullens to target him when needing to move the sticks. Additionally, Goodwin should receive a few shots downfield CB Janoris Jenkins, who has allowed the most TDs to opposing wideouts (6). With Garcon yet to top 60 yards receiving on the year and only last week breaking an 18-game scoring drought, Goodwin likely has a better chance of burning Jenkins or CB B.W. Webb deep.
Will Kittle continue to dominate?
Almost certainly – TE George Kittle has become the focal point of the passing game, and he already has 4 games over 90 yards and every game except two over 50 yards receiving. He’s scored twice and cleared 90 yards in two of his last three games. The Giants have only allowed 1 TD to a tight end this season, so expecting a score may be overly optimistic, but Kittle has already established himself as a top-5 TE and should be started with confidence. In fact, he may emerge as the second tight end to find the end zone.
After last week’s defensive domination, have the 49ers turned a corner?
This may not be the best week to find out. The Giants have allowed 31 sacks (3rd most in football) and the 49ers did sacks QB Derek Carr 7 times last week, but the Raiders did not have RB Saquon Barkley, TE Evan Engram, or WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. The 49ers have not consistently generated pressure as a unit, and if QB Eli Manning has time, he should have little trouble finding his elite pass catchers against a 49ers secondary that has only generated 2 interceptions on the year, good for second-lowest in the league. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been more futile at securing takeaways. The Giants have the firepower to put up yards and points if their admittedly terrible O-line can give Manning time, and the 49ers can’t be trusted to generate the pass rush needed to disrupt the timing of HC Pat Shurmur’s offense.
Boom: RB Matt Breida
Bust: Pierre Garcon
Sleeper: Marquise Goodwin