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Giants-49ers: When the Giants have the ball

The New York Giants travel to San Francisco to face the undefeated 49ers on a short week. San Francisco scored 30 points in each of their first two games while allowing seven points in Week 1 against the Steelers and 23 points last week to the Rams.

Matt Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams scored 17 points on their first three possessions against one of the best defenses in the league. Sean McVay and his offense carved through the 49ers’ zone defense, and the explosive pass rush was contained by the Rams’ protection and offensive approach.

The 49ers only sacked Stafford once, as the veteran signal-caller threw for more than 300 yards. Fred Warner, the star middle linebacker for the 49ers, earned the sack on a twist into the B-Gap off a 5-man pressure:

The Rams dominated time of possession and moved the football well against the 49ers’ defense, but two second-half interceptions helped San Francisco secure a victory. The first interception bounced off wide receiver Van Jefferson and right into the arms of cornerback Isaiah Oliver.

The 49ers were favored by 7.5 points on the road at SoFi Stadium and failed to cover the spread. McVay’s offense established a rhythm through quick passing to set up shot plays. Stafford’s quick game mitigated the 49ers’ ability to generate pressure. The current state of New York’s offensive line could hinder the Giants’ ability to establish a rhythm through the air.

49ers defensive statistics

San Francisco ranks third in scoring defense, which is largely due to their Week 1 beatdown in Pittsburgh, where they only surrendered a touchdown. Their rushing defense is also tied for third-best in yardage allowed. Through two games, the 49ers only allowed 130 rushing yards. However, Steve Wilks’ defensive unit has allowed 247 passing yards a game, ranking them 23rd overall.

Only 28.6% of drives for the 49ers defense end in points, so the defensive unit is efficient. Wilks only blitzed at a 20.7% rate through the first two weeks, but the 49ers pressured the quarterback on 30.6% of dropbacks. The 49ers pressure rate is third in the league behind the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

San Francisco generates pressure and gets hurries – they rank second in the league in hurry percentage behind Jacksonville – but they’re just not finishing as often as one would expect.

The 49ers have allowed the sixth most yards after the catch in the league (251 YAC), and they have the eighth-lowest sack percentage (5.6%), but their four interceptions and red zone defense have them as the third-best passing defense per EPA (on Pro Football Reference).

The best duo in the league at linebacker could be Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. Warner had 11 tackles and a sack against the Rams, and Greenlaw had 12 tackles. Both linebackers fly around the field with excellent vision, coverage, and explosiveness, while packing violence into their hits.

According to Pro Football Focus, both linebackers have 14 tackles, and CB Deommodore Lenior leads the team with 19 tackles. Lenior has surrendered 15 catches for 140 yards on the season. Matt Stafford was 13-17 when targeting outside the hash to the left side of the defense. Lenior was primarily on the left side, but not always.

Former Chiefs CB Charvarius Ward plays on the other side of Lenoir. He has allowed 11 catches on 17 targets for 114 yards. Ambry Thomas, who was limited in practice on Tuesday, and Isaiah Oliver work into the sub-packages of Wilks’ defense.

Second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga is a bruising hitter with high processing at safety. Tashaun Gipson Sr. is the safety opposite Hufanga, who mainly plays free safety or slot cornerback, depending on matchups and personnel.

The 49ers have a strong defensive front headlined by Nick Bosa, who has yet to record a sack but leads the team with nine pressures. Second-year edge defender, Drake Jackson, has three sacks and eight pressures, and former Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive lineman Javon Hargrave has eight pressures.

I’m worried about the 49ers long, strong, and explosive defensive line against the Giants’ protection. Arik Armstead is a massive player who aligns all throughout the defensive front; he has six pressures on the season. The 49ers’ front seven is a significant matchup advantage for San Francisco in the trenches.

Giants game plan

New York has to find a way to keep Bosa and Co. at bay. One of the best ways to slow a pass rush down is to effectively run the football, work the play action with bootlegs, or employ screen passes that use the defensive aggression against the defense. Unfortunately, it would be easier for the Giants to achieve these already lofty goals with Saquon Barkley on the field – that’s more than likely not the case.

The Giants must get Jones on the move, help their tackles out with six/seven men protection, and take a page out of McVay’s playbook from last week – use quick game against the 49ers Quarters and Cover-3 defense. The Giants offensive line struggled last year, and the Giants devised quick passing concepts to get the football out of Daniel Jones’ hands as the pocket became compromised.

On plays where Jones did not like his first or second read, he took off and use his legs to move the football; we have seen Jones successfully do this so far in 2023. Jones must be dialed in and decisive on choosing when to run, for the 49ers’ second level is very fast.

New York doesn’t typically throw to the field side of the formation too often, but the Giants must force Wilks and the 49ers to defend every blade of grass. When the defense goes into quarters or Cover-3, Jones has to confirm the outside deep fourth defender dropped to depth before exploiting the space outside the numbers in quick game in the short areas of the field, as Matthew Stafford effectively did in Week 2.

The offense realized the true difference in speed that Jalin Hyatt can offer – that has to be used to open up space in the middle of the field for Darren Waller, as we witnessed in the second half of the Giants’ Week 2 win. Hyatt opened space for Waller and Slayton on several big plays in the second half.

New York used 12 personnel, with Waller and Daniel Bellinger on the same side and Hyatt on the line of scrimmage with Slayton motioning to stack behind him. Hyatt’s speed was a defensive focus for Arizona after the first play of the second half; the Giants must show the 49ers that speed. That should lead to not only space for the intermediate crossers but also rushing room for the Giants’ running backs.

The 49ers will be a fast-flowing, hard-hitting, team that employs an EVEN front (four down linemen, no nose tackle) and a lot of 4-2-5 nickel. New York has to try and stay on scrip, on schedule, and avoid second or third in long situations where Bosa, Armstead, Jackson, and Javon Kinlaw can pin their ears back against the Giants’ young offensive line.

Final thoughts

New York needs a faster start than they’ve achieved over the first two games of the season. Bad offensive execution in the first half of Week 2 forced the Giants into a scoreless locker room where – I’m sure – certain expletives were uttered to help motivate New York to seize the day in the second half. Whatever happened at halftime, it worked:

Execution and halftime adjustments allowed Jones to experience great success, and help the Giants out of a 21-point hole. New York has to keep San Francisco within arm’s length. The Giants’ defense was not inspiring on Sunday, so the offense must find ways to put points on the board.

This could be a higher-scoring affair if the Giants’ offense can score. If not, it may not look pretty on Thursday for the Giants unless the defense drastically improves. The offense, however, is undermanned up against a formidable foe. Hopefully, Andrew Thomas can suit up for the Giants. Even with Thomas, the Giants’ offesnvie line has their work cut out for them against the 49ers.


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