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Even though it’s Week 3 of the NFL regular season, the contest between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers will feel a bit like Week 2 of the preseason.
Not because it isn’t an important game; the 49ers are trying to escape the first three weeks above .500 and with 53 healthy players, while the Giants are looking for the first win of the season. It is because of the players who will be on the field.Or rather, the players who won’t be.
After a shortened offseason and no preseason games for the players to use to get into game shape, the 49ers will be entering week three without Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Deebo Samuel, Weston Richburg, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, and Solomon Thomas.George Kittle, Dre Greenlaw, D.J. Jones, and Jason Verrett are all possible scratches. When you add all of these players to the likes of Richie James Jr., Tim Harris, Jalen Hurd, and Ronald Blair, all of whom were likely contributors, this 49ers team is stretching the term “depth” to new meanings.
The Giants, though their injury list is smaller, lost all-world running back Saquan Barkley for the season due to a torn ACL. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard was also lost to IR due to a turf toe injury. Over the off-season, the Giants lost rookie safety Xavier McKinney and linebacker David Mayo, both of whom were expected to be big contributors for the Giants’ defense in 2020.
All of these injuries have caused this Week 3 contest that everyone believed would be a shoo-in win for the 49ers to be a competitive game instead. With starting quarterback Garoppolo most likely unavailable, Nick Mullens will be under center. Although Mullens has shown to be a serviceable backup, there is quite a drop-off from Garoppolo to Mullens as was evident by the offense’s huge drop off after halftime in their Week 3 contest. This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the run game was fully available, but with Mostert and Coleman out(and Kittle possibly not playing), the run game is far from full strength.
Jerick McKinnon showed in the second half of the 49ers’ Week 2 win against the New York Jets that he was still just as dynamic after two seasons spent rehabbing knee injuries. Jeff Wilson Jr. and the soon-to-be-called-up JaMycal Hasty will have to fill in for 15-to-20 touches in the game against the Giants though, and how well those touches go might just decide if the 49ers’ offense is successful or not.
The front office added receiver Mohamed Sanu and defensive end Ziggy Ansah to help mitigate some of the injuries sustained, but how much either of these two players participate is anyone’s guess. Both have some experience in their respective playbooks, but that doesn’t mean they can just come in and perform. The offense will likely lean on Jordan Reed and Kendrick Bourne in the pass game, unless Kittle is available, then you will see him targeted early and often.
Without Bosa and Ford, the pass rush will be more anemic than it has been the past 21 games, and that’s just the type of problem that opens up the possibility for Giants QB Daniel Jones to have an above-average game day.
With all the injuries, the far superior 49ers will find themselves in a cut-throat one-possession game for the majority of Sunday. I expect head coach Kyle Shanahan to call a somewhat vanilla game offensively, hoping his ability to scheme talent like McKinnon and Reed open will be enough to win their second in a row in New York. This is the type of game where you could see someone like Trent Taylor make a huge impact. That is what Super Bowl-bound teams do: they find a way to win when others lose.
I expect the 49ers to do just that this weekend, squeaking by the New York Giants in a 24-17 game.
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