The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers get to entertain the nation on Monday Night Football in a few days. To learn more about the 49ers, we turn to David Fucillo of Niners Nation to answer our “5 questions” this week.
Ed: The Giants and 49ers are both bad. Everything around the Giants seems negative, but at least from the outside it seems like there is some positivity around the 49ers? Does that seem right, and if so what is it attributable to?
David: I don’t know that I’d call it positivity, so much as not being super-concerned about the team’s record. It’s disappointing losing six straight games, and it’s disappointing to not be competing for a playoff spot, but losing Jimmy Garoppolo is a built-in excuse. Don’t get me wrong, the 49ers have their problems that would have existed even with a healthy Garoppolo and a healthy Jerick McKinnon. The defense is inconsistent at best and is the worst in the league at forcing turnovers. The pass rush has been bad. The wide receivers have some upside, but have been fairly pedestrian to date.
This team has problems it needs to address in the offseason and the personnel acquisition record of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan has been hit and miss. The Garoppolo trade was critical to the rebuild, Mike McGlinchey is proving to be a stud at right tackle, and George Kittle is turning into one of the best tight ends in the game. However, Solomon Thomas has not broken out into his second year, and Reuben Foster has regressed badly while dealing with a shoulder injury. The free agent moves have not gone particularly great overall, although there has been value in guys like Marquise Goodwin and Richard Sherman.
And yet, I think most people are comfortable with the process thus far. Once Garoppolo went down, we quickly began looking ahead to 2019. As for the team itself, it’s been nothing but praise for how Kyle Shanahan has handled a tough season. The 49ers players know this is not an overnight change, and Shanahan deserves credit for keeping them fairly even-keeled even as losses pile up.
Ed: Nick Mullens. A nice one-game story or a kid you think can really be a viable starting quarterback for an NFL team?
David: It sure helps facing the Oakland Raiders in your debut! I don’t know if an NFL team ever fully gives up, but the Raiders came about as close as one could to doing so in that game.
The Giants defense is shaky enough that he could build on that performance, but it’s too early to say if he can emerge as a real starting QB option. A big weakness for him is arm strength, and we saw that show up when he was trying to hit his pass catchers on out routes. He can get the throw to them, but it’s a little slower, which means it’s easier to break up. I have to think the Giants will game-plan to force him to make some tougher throws.
The big positive I took away was his performance against blitzes. Mullens only faced six blitzes, and was 4/6 for 85 yards and a passer rating of 149.3. I have to think the Giants will bring the heat a bit more than that to test the young QB. C.J. Beathard struggled big time when pass rushers got in the way, regularly throwing passes that were knocked down. That could happen with Mullens as well, but for one game he looked great against pressure.
I doubt he is the next coming of Tom Brady because we all know how rare a talent Brady was. Odds are good he will have some decent games this year and eventually regress to backup form at best. I’m hoping the 49ers have found a diamond in the rough, but I’m keeping my expectations low.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants roster and put him in San Francisco’s lineup (other than Odell Beckham or Saquon Barkley) who would it be? Why?
David: On offense, minus Beckham and Barkley, I’d probably go with someone like Sterling Shepard. The 49ers had a great slot receiver last season in rookie Trent Taylor. He had offseason back surgery and has not been the same since. 2018 rookie Richie James is getting some work in the position, but overall, the 49ers are not getting enough from the slot, or from their wide receivers in general. Shepard appears to be getting work both inside and outside, and could be an intriguing option for the group.
On defense, y’all traded away players faster than the 49ers might have claimed them. Eli Apple would have been a potential choice. With the current roster, I might look at someone like Olivier Vernon. The 49ers edge rushers have struggled big time, finally showing up this past week against a bad Raiders team. Dekoda Watson and Cassius Marsh are not long-term answers off the edge. Vernon is not getting home to the quarterback, but he’s an interesting option for the 49ers to consider. I might also look at safety Landon Collins as the 49ers safeties have been inconsistent and dealing with a host of injuries.
Ed: Who is the best player on the 49ers roster we probably know little to nothing about?
David: It’s probably tight end George Kittle. He leads the 49ers in receptions and receiving yards, and is third and second in those two categories among all NFL tight ends. He is force in run blocking as well, making him arguably the most complete tight end in the NFL for the time being. He’s in only his second season, so if you want to argue about completeness, he’s arguably the most complete for his experience level.
The 49ers spent a fifth round pick on him in 2017. He came from an Iowa offense that struggled to do a whole lot of much, and that coupled with a foot injury limited him to 22 receptions for 314 yards and four touchdowns in his final season. He flew under the radar, but he is quickly emerging as a player to watch this season. He’s got solid speed and plenty of physicality to handle most any defender at this point. He will likely earn a Pro Bowl nod this season, and could end up second team All-Pro.
Ed: How do you see this game playing out? You don’t have to predict an exact score if you don’t want, but what are your expectations for Monday?
David: On offense, it all comes down to Nick Mullens. He needs support from the ground game, but Mullens is as big an X factor as anybody in the NFL at the moment. He had a monster performance against the Raiders, but they’re the Raiders. I have no idea what to expect against the Giants, but I have to think the Giants will find new ways to test him. My guess is the 49ers offense is able to get enough done to get a win, but there is a fair amount of guess work given Mullens being the quarterback.
On defense, a potentially rejuvenated (or just “juvenated” since they were fairly non-existent much of the first eight games) pass rush will look to get home against Eli Manning. Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard appear to be performing quite well this season, and present a serious challenge to a shaky 49ers secondary. The 49ers can win this game if they get home to Eli Manning and keep him from getting comfortable.
The spread is a field goal, and I think this game ends up pretty close to that. I’ll go with a 23-20 49ers win.