Battered 49ers facing another banged-up team this week
What if we told you the 49ers have actually had some good fortune with injuries this season?
Would you call us crazy? Delusional? Maybe worse?
Before getting too worked up and rattling off the long list of the 49ers’ wounded, consider that this coming Sunday could be the second consecutive game San Francisco’s opponent will be without both its star running back and top wide receiver.
The New York Giants will welcome the 49ers back to their house of horrors ― aka MetLife Stadium ― without Saquon Barkley, perhaps the NFL’s best running back, who went down with a season-ending torn ACL during his team’s 17-13 loss to the Bears. Sterling Shepard, the Giants’ No. 1 receiver, limped off the field with a toe injury at the end of the first half and may not face the 49ers either.
The Giants’ injury woes not only stack up with some of those suffered by the 49ers, they mirror the pain endured by the Jets, who were walloped by San Francisco Sunday with star tailback Le’Veon Bell (hamstring) and top receiver Jamison Crowder (hamstring) nowhere to be found.
That’s not to suggest the 49ers aren’t plenty good enough on their own to easily dispose of the likes of the Jets and Giants. It’s just a reminder that NFL injuries really don’t discriminate.
Here are three reasons for the 49ers to be optimistic about Sunday’s game:
Giants’ line struggles continue
After a rough Week 1, the Giants’ line play was only slightly better in their loss to the Bears on Sunday. New York’s offensive linemen have allowed an eye-popping 56 pressures through two games, just one fewer than the Texans’ NFL-worst 57. The Giants line has only created enough room for 104 yards rushing, including just six from Barkley a week ago.
Most concerning for the Giants has been the play of rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. Thomas, who was the Giants’ highest-picked offensive lineman since 1974, was regularly beaten in pass protection against the Bears. Of course, the Bears have Khalil Mack rushing the passer. Even the Raiders will admit he’s no ordinary guy.
Taking a run at the Giants
Should Nick Mullens get the start at quarterback over Jimmy Garoppolo (high-ankle sprain), we can probably expect a heavy dose of running the ball for the 49ers ― with whomever is healthy enough to run the ball.
The Giants’ defensive linemen ― Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence and BJ Hill ― get solid grades as run-stuffers, according to ProFootballFocus.com. But the foursome couldn’t prevent the Steelers and Bears from piling up 141 yards and 135 yards, respectively, against the Giants this season.
New York also had the league’s fourth-worst pass-rush grade last season among linemen. The general lack of pressure up front has made it easier for Ben Roethlisberger and Mitch Trubisky to attack Giants defensive backs not named James Bradberry ― mainly Corey Ballentine and Isaac Yiadom.
Staying clear of Bradberry is probably wise for the 49ers, considering he’s coming off another outstanding game ― he had an interception, three passes broken up and allowed just one catch on six targets against the Bears. Bradberry earned PFF’s highest grade ― 91.6 ― of any NFL defender in Week 2.
Giants’ now-depleted running attack
You obviously just don’t get over the loss of a premier back such as Barkley, and the Giants don’t seem equipped to be able to rebound from his loss.
The discouraging thing about the loss of Barkley is that New York already had enough trouble running the ball with him in the game. He only gained 34 yards in 19 carries over the 1½ games he played this season.
Overall, the Giants have just 55 yards on 30 carries. Veteran Dion Lewis, who took most of the snaps after Barkley was hurt, had just 20 yards on 10 carries. Lewis, who turns 30 next week, has primarily been a third-down specialist for the Titans, Patriots and Eagles.
It’s possible Wayne Gallman, who was a healthy scratch Sunday, will be the man to step into Barkley’s shoes. It was Gallman who took over an injured Barkley’s load in Week 3 last year and had 118 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
Here are three reasons for the 49ers to be pessimistic about Sunday:
In Mullens we trust?
Jimmy Garoppolo’s high-ankle sprain could very well prevent him from playing, which would mean it’s Nick Mullens time again.
Forced into second-half duty in the 49ers’ win over the Jets, Mullens looked like a man who hasn’t thrown a pass in two years, which, coincidentally, was the case Sunday. His last real action came in 2018 when he started eight games after Garoppolo tore his ACL. Mullens started eight games―- with just three wins ― and threw for 2,277 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.