The New York Giants (0-2) play host to the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers (1-1) this week at MetLife Stadium. Both teams will look significantly different than the last time we saw them. They will square off following a week that saw them both lose multiple players to debilitating injuries. Next man up will undoubtedly be the mantra for the two teams this week.
San Francisco will look to build upon their 31-13 drubbing of the lowly New York Jets. Meanwhile, the Giants have begun the season 0-2 for the fourth straight year, and seventh of the past eight. Winning this game against a hapless 49ers team could be the easiest win for the Giants all season. Here are some key matchups the Giants will have to look forward to on Sunday.
Devonta Freeman vs His Own Gas Tank
Freeman signed with the Giants this week after Saquon Barkley was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn ACL. As we’ve seen already, players weren’t able to get into the best of playing shape with a shortened preseason. So what kind of playing shape Freeman will be in upon his arrival remains to be seen.
He is a veteran of this league and knows what it takes to get his body into shape. While he may not be in top playing shape right away, he should be in good enough shape to be a factor in the game Sunday. Somebody who plows ahead time after time and wears defensive fronts down.
Runners like him are typically at their best late in games when the defense is tired. While he may not be the dynamic, big-play kind of runner Saquon Barkley is, he is still highly effective. He is the kind of back who likes to get going downhill right away. Again, he’s not going to be a threat to break off that 50+yard run and get everybody excited. What he will do though, is get you at least 3-4 yards every time and continue to move the chains.
Everybody loves Barkley and his homerun ability, but this may be the type of runner more suited to fit this team. The offensive line is built more for a runner like this. Someone who will continue to eat up little chunks of yards and move the chains. Somebody who will keep drives alive by continuously picking up the tough yards. A guy who most likely isn’t going to have those plays where he loses 4-5-6 yards on a run because he is going to go straight forward and get the Giants something positive. Freeman also knows his blitz pickups and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the fire. This has the potential to be a great all-around pick up for the Giants.
Evan Engram looks to get going this week for the Giants. He should see an uptick in targets with Sterling Shepard on the sidelines. After a Week 1 dud vs the Steelers (2receptions,9yards), Engram turned in a respectable performance (6 receptions, 65 yards) in their Week 2 matchup against the Bears. What really made last week’s performance special, was that he was able to do it while being covered primarily 1-1 against Chicago All-Pro Free Safety, Eddie Jackson.
He will have his work cut out for him again this week vs the 49ers’ Pro Bowl Linebacker, Fred Warner. Warner is one of a handful of linebackers around the league who can play the run and pass equivalent to each other. Aside from just leading this defense in tackles the past two seasons, Warner has also racked up 16 pass breakups over that same stretch. He has elite anticipation which allows him to get his hands on the ball and break up passes.
On top of that, he has elite speed which he uses to run with tight ends and running backs down the field in coverage. Fred Warner’s and ability in coverage vs Evan Engram and his 4.4 speed is a matchup everyone should keep their eyes on.
Giants O-Line vs the 49ers Pass Rush
There is no doubt about it, the San Francisco defensive line is banged up beyond recognition. It is definitely not the group of DeForrest Buckner, Dee Ford, and Nick Bosa, that was one of the best units in the NFL last year. This is something the Giants offensive line can not fall asleep on though. They need to bring the same focus they brought during their first two weeks- when they went up against two of the absolute best fronts in all of the NFL.
Starting the season off by going against two of the best pass-rushing groups in the NFL is only going to make them better in the long run. The Giants can’t afford to take this group for granted just because their stars are hurt.
The offensive line played really well for the most part in their Week 2 loss to the Bears. They held their own against a handful of pass-rushers who are among the game’s elite at their respective positions. Kevin Zeitler played like his usual self, leading the unit in pass blocking grade. Aside from one or two plays, Andrew Thomas put together another respectable effort as well.
Based on the structure and experience of the line, this is a unit that should continue to improve each week. As the young guys gain the necessary experience, and all of that talent starts to gel- this group should see steady improvements on a weekly basis. If the Giants can continue to improve and keep Daniel Jones out of pressure, they will have a great chance to win this game.
Giants Run Defense vs SF Ground Game
Although they’re currently ranked 23rd in the league against the run, this Giants front was among the top of the league last year. They were one of only a small handful of teams to hold opponents to under four yards per carry. It’s been a tale of two halves in each of their first two games.
Week 1, they held Pittsburgh in check for the first half before giving up over 100 yards rushing to Benny Snell in the second half alone.
They did the opposite in Week 2. Allowing David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen to move the ball almost at will during the first half. The Giants made the necessary adjustments during the half and pitched a shutout on the scoreboard in the second half.
If they want to get a much-needed win this week, they will have to stop Jerrick McKinnon and an elite San Francisco run-blocking unit. They have the personnel to do so. Their three-man front is up there with any team in the league in terms of run-stopping.
Leonard Williams has been a force so far this year and Dexter Lawrence has already blossomed into one of the elite interior defensive linemen in the entire league. A real key to the Giants getting a victory this week is stopping the run and putting the ball into the hands of Nick Mullens.
NYG Safeties vs Jordan Reed
A player who injured himself so often over the past few years that he became an after-thought. He’s a guy who was once one of the more dynamic tight ends in the league. A mismatch nightmare for defensive coordinators trying to find a way to cover him. Jordan Reed proved last week, that when he’s healthy, he’s still a dynamic player. A real pass-catching threat who can line up all over the offense.
The absence of George Kittle would lead most people to believe that there isn’t anything to worry about coming from the tight end position. The Jets learned how wrong that sentiment is last week. Reed caught 7 of 8 targets for 50 yards and 2 scores. Not too bad for an afterthought. He, like almost all tight ends, has consistently burned the Giants whenever he’s played them over the years.
Unlike in years past, the Giants now have multiple legitimate threats to line up and cover a tight end. Julian Love, Jabrill Peppers, and Logan Ryan all have the potential to cause problems for the opposition. While they may not possess the size of Reed, all three of them would have an advantage in the speed and quickness department. Along with the speed advantage, all three of them have legitimate coverage skills.
This is by far the best group of coverage guys the team has had in a number of years. So far, there has been very limited damage done by opposing tight ends. This should be the first real threat by an opposing tight end. For once, Giants fans can feel optimistic about their chances of covering an opposing tight end.