The roster depth for the San Francisco 49ers commanded the spotlight on Sunday against the New York Giants. San Francisco dominated the Giants and ran away with the game as they relied on numerous backups and backups to the backups. Today we take a look at how the victory went down and the three biggest factors in the 49ers 36-9 victory.
Can Your Backup Do That?
Quarterback Nick Mullens got the start for the 49ers as Jimmy Garoppolo nursed an ankle sprain. However, Mullens wasn’t the only backup who found a starting role on Sunday. In total, the 49ers were without their normally starting quarterback, running back, tight end, center, and top wide receiver. That’s just on the offense. Defensively, the 49ers were without three of their top four defensive ends, the starting SAM linebacker, and starting cornerback. Even with all the injury concerns, the 49ers rode their talented depth pieces to a 27-point victory against the Giants. Mullens finished with 343 yards passing, completing 25 of 36 attempts, and a passing touchdown. With the victory, Mullens is now 4-5 as a starter, dating back to the 2018 season. Mullens moved the ball well and spread things around to a tune of 10 separate San Francisco receivers finishing with at least one reception.
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However, Mullens received an abundance of help from the depth at running back for the 49ers. McKinnon was the feature back and finished with 38 yards rushing on 14 carries, including a 10-yard touchdown run, and another 39 yards receiving on three receptions. Jeff Wilson Jr. added a rushing touchdown to go along with a receiving touchdown and 69 total scrimmage yards. Defensively, the 49ers received sacks from Kerry Hyder and Dion Jordan. Hyder has received a prominent role at defensive end due to the numerous injuries. He has not disappointed as he collected another sack on Sunday and added nearly a half-dozen quarterback pressures. Jordan saw his first action with the 49ers after being promoted from the practice squad. He recovered an early New York fumble and added a sack of his own.
A Devil of a Receiver
When the 49ers drafted wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, quite a few heads turned as the team had passed on a few higher-profile options earlier in the first round. However, in just his second NFL game, Aiyuk showed why he was a coveted prospect for head coach Kyle Shanahan. San Francisco focused their offense on getting Aiyuk in space and getting him touches. The rookie had three carries for 31 yards on the ground. In the passing game, Aiyuk was the most targeted option for the 49ers with eight targets. He made five receptions and tallied 70 yards receiving, the game’s leader. Aiyuk had a total of 101 scrimmage yards, including a 19-yard touchdown run in which we scored untouched.
Brandon Aiyuk goes untouched for the 19-yard TD run! #FTTB
— NFL (@NFL) September 27, 2020
The 49ers offense looked dangerous with Aiyuk on the field. Aiyuk lined up out wide on many plays but also saw some time in the slot as well. As his impact grew, Aiyuk saw the Giants begin to shade coverage towards the rookie. This helped open up the field for players like Kendrick Bourne and Ross Dwelley, who both caught four passes and combined for 112 receiving yards. Aiyuk also allowed the running game to get going as the 49ers utilized their receiver on the edge, helping to draw the eyes of defenders as they ran the football in the other direction. In all, Aiyuk showed exactly why many in the organization are excited by what they see every day in practice. When fellow wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and tight end George Kittle return from injuries, the receiving options for the 49ers will be difficult to stop.
With key pieces missing on offense, it would have been understandable if the 49ers had struggled against the Giants. The depth of the roster had been challenged after two weeks of injuries to starters. However, Kyle Shanahan’s offense rolled on Sunday, against a Giants defense that is much improved over last season. In total, the 49ers offense racked up over 400 yards of total offense and nearly 40 minutes of total possession. However, perhaps the craziest stat from the victory was that the 49ers did not have a single punt. It was the first time since 1993 that it had happened for the 49ers.
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The first quarter saw the 49ers stall twice on long drives and settle for field goals from Robbie Gould. A bad snap on Gould’s third attempt would lead to his only miss and the only drive, other than the final kneel-downs, that resulted in zero points scored. The key to the success came on third down. The 49ers converted on 75% (8-12) of third-down attempts. It was an impressive performance from a unit missing so much talent at playmaking positions. It shows the type of depth that Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have been able to add over the last few seasons. It will be a difficult offense to slow down once those players return from injury.
Weathering the Storm
After a duo of victories in consecutive weeks against the New York teams, the 49ers are now a single game behind the division-leading Seahawks. San Francisco returns home for a Sunday night matchup against the struggling Philadelphia Eagles. The 49ers are likely to receive reinforcements over the next two weeks in the form of Kittle and Samuel. It would not be a surprise to see Jimmy Garoppolo return this week but it will be decided later in the week. If the 49ers can win on Sunday, they’ll have another winnable game at home against the Dolphins before traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. The 49ers need to take things one week at a time and put forth the type of effort seen this past Sunday against the Giants. If that happens, the quality depth of the roster means the playoffs are the starting point for San Francisco.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covers the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada