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In a Week 3 game that could be Kyle Shanahan’s best coaching performance, the 49ers dismantled the New York Giants 36-9, despite missing major pieces on both sides of the ball. Shanahan’s offense hit the ground running Sunday, scoring on all but two of their drives, missing a field goal attempt in the first half and taking the victory formation to run out the clock to end the game. Not to knock punter Mitch Wishnowsky, but any game where he’s not needed is a good day.
Even with five starters missing on offense, Sunday’s game saw some major standouts.
Nick Mullens continues to impress as Jimmy Garoppolo’s replacement. While Mullens may not have the arm strength and quick release that Garoppolo has in his arsenal, his quick decision making and decisiveness keeps the offense on track. He finished the day going 25-of-36 for 343 yards with one touchdown. Pro Football Focus had Mullens as the highest rated offensive player for the 49ers with an 81.0 overall grade while also posting a 108.9 quarterback rating and 80 QBR.
Mullens’ most impressive statistic from Sunday may have been the fact that he was 10-for-15 for 169 yards on throws of 10 yards or more, which would suggest that Mullens has spent some significant time working on his arm strength, something that had been viewed as a weakness. Mullens has been so good as a replacement to Garoppolo that he joins Patrick Mahomes as the only quarterbacks in history to throw for 2,600 yards and 14 touchdowns in their first nine starts.
Rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk seems to enjoy playing in New York. In Week 2 versus the Jets, Aiyuk had the first start of his career, and Week 3 was his coming out party. Mullens targeted the rookie eight times, resulting in five catches for 70 yards, and he continued to show his versatility on the ground with three carries for 31 yards and his first touchdown. 49er fans got used to seeing Deebo Samuel take jet sweeps for big gains; now it seems the offense has another playmaker on the boundary that can do the same. Aiyuk took a handoff from Mullens and attacked the left side of the defense, displaying speed far greater then the 4.5 he ran at the combine, and torched the Giants for 19 yards on his way to the end zone without a defender getting a hand on him.
After Jordan Reed went down with a knee sprain, Grant Cohn’s favorite player Ross Dwelley stepped into the starting tight end role and made the most of his opportunities. Dwelley had some big catches last year – the conversion against Arizona stands out – and he continued to perform in the clutch on Sunday, with four catches on four targets for 49 yards, and three of those receptions resulting in first downs. George Kittle has been a full go at practice this week while Jordan Reed is going on short-term IR, and with Dwelley playing the way he has, the offense shouldn’t miss Reed too much.
A discussion of Sunday’s offensive output wouldn’t be complete without mentioning running back Jeff Wilson Jr. Wilson may be the team’s best player at getting into the end zone. Wilson found the Promised Land twice on Sunday, bringing his career total to five scores. That may not seem that impressive for the third year player, but when you factor in that he only has 126 career touches, that’s an average of one touchdown every 18 times he has the ball in his hands. To make that statistic even more impressive, factor out his rookie season, where he didn’t score a touchdown, and his average jumps to 14.9 touches per score. Wilson has worked diligently at improving his ability as a pass catcher and that showed on Sunday, coming down with all three of his targets, netting 54 yards and a score through the air. Wilson can’t keep up that scoring pace through his career, but his hard work is paying off, and having a third or fourth option with his skill set is a huge addition to any offense.
The 49ers are working themselves back to full strength with the return of George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. Jimmy Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert are also expected back in the next few weeks, but until the team is fully healthy it’s reassuring to know that there are adequate playmakers down the depth chart that Kyle Shanahan can call on when the offense needs a spark.
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