The San Francisco 49ers are 0-9, but that doesn’t exactly represent how this team has played, especially earlier in the season. The Niners have a point differential that suggests they’re closer to a 2-7 team than a winless one. After a 23-3 loss in Week 1 to the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco kept each of the next five games within one score with two of those loses in overtime. The Niners haven’t looked like a really bad team until the past few weeks when they lost by scores of 40-10, 33-10, and 20-10. Those losses didn’t come until San Francisco switched from Brian Hoyer to rookie C.J. Beathard at quarterback. Beathard will get his fourth -- and likely last -- start of the season against the Giants on Sunday.
By the numbers
Rushing: 92.1 yards per game (24th), 4.2 yards per carry (14th)
Passing: 217.3 yards per game (18th), 6.0 yards per attempt (29th)
Total Yards: 309.4 yards per game (24th), 25.33 yards per dive (28th)
Points: 15.9 points per game (30th), 1.34 points per drive (27th)
Rushing: 125.9 yards per game (29th), 4.2 yards per carry (20th)
Passing: 265.3 yards per game (29th), 7.6 yards per attempt (24th)
Total Yards: 391.1 yards per game (30th), 32.97 yards per drive (24th)
Points: 25.9 points per game (29th), 2.17 points per drive (28th)
Will we see Jimmy Garoppolo?
The answer here is probably not. The 49ers traded a second-round pick for the former New England Patriots backup before the trade deadline. Garoppolo is likely to be San Francisco’s quarterback of the future, but head coach Kyle Shanahan has been reluctant to share when Garoppolo might get his first taste of action in the Bay Area.
It was announced Beathard would start and it’s possible he plays so poorly -- Beathard is 31st among quarterbacks in DVOA -- the 49ers have to make a change during the game. But if Garoppolo was truly ready to take over in a game, it’s more likely he would have been named the starter instead of spending another week as the backup. San Francisco will serve its bye next week, so odds are Garoppolo will take over as the starter in Week 12 against the Seattle Seahawks after another two weeks with the playbook instead of any time against the Giants this week.
The return of Olivier Vernon, maybe
Vernon hasn’t been on the field for the Giants since Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An ankle injury has kept him sidelined and he had not returned to practice until this past week. Even then, he was a limited participant. Without Vernon on the field, the Giants’ ability to create pressure on the defense has dropped off drastically from last season. Per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders, the Giants rank 15th in defensive pressure rate this season after finishing eighth last season.
Also without Vernon, it has been easier for opposing offenses to plan around Jason Pierre-Paul. To his credit, Pierre-Paul still ranks ninth among all defenders in individual pressures, but he’s had to create on his own. Having another top-tier edge rusher on the other side of the line opens up more opportunities for both players.
The emergence of rookie Avery Moss has helped, but without Vernon on the field last week, Moss simply took his place as the high-snap counterpart to Pierre-Paul. Moss played 88 percent of the defensive snaps last Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams while Pierre-Paul played 84 percent. Even having Vernon back on a limited basis could help set up more of a defensive end rotation, which could allow all players to be healthier and more well rested during the game.
Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in the game and one of his staples in finding mismatches off play-action. Shanahan used more play-action than anyone in the league last season as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. This year, the 49ers are just 16th in play-action percentage, but the offense is still successful with it relative to its other plays.
On play-action passes this season, the 49ers have averaged 7.6 yards per play, which only ranks 17th in the league. However, on non-play-action passes, the Niners average 4.9 yards per play, which is the worst in the league. The 2.6-yard difference is the sixth-biggest improvement for an offense when using play-action opposed to not.
This is a play from the past week against the Arizona Cardinals that showcases two places where Shanahan excels -- play-action and getting running backs involved in the passing game. This play comes on a first-and-10. After the play-fake, Carlos Hyde sneaks out and has an open left side of the field for an easy gain of 14 yards. Hyde is second on the team in targets (57) and is tied for the team lead in receptions (40).
On defense, the Giants have seen the third-highest rate of play action passes run against them this season (25 percent). They’ve been decent at defending it, allowing 7.1 yards per play, which ranks 14th in the league.
Of course, the tight ends
Another defensive preview, another warning about an opposing team’s tight ends. The Giants have allowed a touchdown to an opposing tight end in each game this season and rank 22nd in DVOA defensing against tight ends.
George Kittle has emerged as San Francisco’s top pass-catching tight end this season. Kittle is also a rookie and by SPARQ -- a composite athleticism metric -- Kittle was the most athletic tight end in this past year’s draft class (Evan Engram was fourth). Kittle is fourth on the 49ers in targets and with top receiver Pierre Garcon out for the year, his role in the passing game could increase.
Kittle production hasn’t been great since Beathard took over as the quarterback -- six receptions on 11 targets for 65 yards -- which is strange since they were teammates in college. But of there’s going to be a breakout week for the tight end, there’s no better opponent than the Giants.