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2018 Giants opponents: The San Francisco 49ers are coming

Giants will start second half of their schedule facing 49ers on a Monday night

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Ram Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Training camp is used for players to get ready for the upcoming season. We’re not going to leave you out of that — you’re getting prepared, too. As camp rolls along, we’re going to preview the opponents on the 2018 New York Giants schedule. We’ll look at how 2017 played out and what 2018 might look like to get everyone ready for the season to come.

After a rough first half of the season and a Week 9 bye, the Giants will travel cross country for another prime-time game against a possible breakout team, the San Francisco 49ers.

When will they play?

Week 10 at San Francisco, Monday Night Football

2017 in review

Record: 6-10, fourth NFC West

Expected W-L (Pythagorean Expectation): 6.6-9.4

DVOA rankings: 20th overall, 19th offense, 26th defense, 11th special teams

Momentum from year-to-year isn’t really a thing in the NFL. A great stretch of four games to end a season isn’t any different from a great four-game stretch at any other point in the season. The exception is when there’s a clear shift in a major area, like coaching or a quarterback. That’s the story for the 49ers. The team finished 6-10, but five of those wins came from the final five weeks of the season after Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the starting quarterback. After those five starts, the 49ers gave Garoppolo $47.5 million guaranteed and there’s hop the 2018 version of the team looks a lot like it did at the end of last season.

Offseason overview

Draft picks

1 (9) Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

2 (44) Dante Pettis, WR, Washington

3 (70) Fred Warner, LB, BYU

3 (95) Tarvarius Moore, DB, Southern Miss

4 (128) Kentavius Street, DL, NC State

5 (142) D.J. Reed, CB, Kansas State

6 (184) Marcell Harris, S, Florida

7 (223) Julian Taylor, DT, Temple

7 (240) Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State

Key losses

Eric Reid, Brandon Fusco, Elvis Dumervil, Aaron Lynch, Carlos Hyde, Daniel Kilgore

Key additions

Weston Richburg, Richard Sherman, Jerick McKinnon, Jeremiah Attaochu, Jonathan Cooper

There was a lot of player movement among starters for the 49ers, but it could be argued all — or at least most — of the changes make the team better. Start on the offensive line, where the 49ers will have three new starters in 2018. Guard Brandon Fusco was lost in free agency, but in his place will be 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett, who spent last season on injured reserve after a preseason knee injury. Mike McGlinchey was drafted ninth overall to play right tackle and 2017’s right tackle Trent Brown was traded to the New England Patriots. San Francisco also traded last year’s starting center even after signing him to an extension earlier in the offseason. But that extension came before former Giants Weston Richburg was available in free agency. Though Richburg had an injury-plagued 2017, he’s been one of the league’s best centers and there are few people you should trust more with valuing centers than Kyle Shanahan — just look at the leap the Atlanta Falcons offense took after they brought in Alex Mack in 2016.

Carlos Hyde was allowed to leave in free agency and the 49ers went out and emptied the bank on Jerick McKinnon. At the time of his signing, McKinnon’s $11.7 million guaranteed was the fourth-most for a non-rookie running back. McKinnon was fairly inefficient as a runner — 40th among 45 qualified running backs in DVOA — but he brought an extra layer in the passing game, something Shanahan values in his running backs. He won’t necessarily have to take over a lead role with the last year’s surprise undrafted free agent Matt Breida (fifth in DVOA) and 2017 fourth-round pick Joe Williams, who missed all of last season, returning.

Of course the most notable change comes on the defensive side of the ball with the signing of Richard Sherman. Sherman was released by the Seattle Seahawks, mostly for cap reasons with a significant salary owed to a player coming off an Achilles injury. Before the injury, Sherman’s game had not declined. He still finished 16th in yards allowed per pass and 17th in Success Rate in his nine games last season per Football Outsiders. He’ll be an important addition opposite second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon, who struggled last season — 70th in yards allowed per pass and 75th in Success Rate. Keep an eye on rookie fifth-round pick D.J. Reed, who despite a 5’9” frame was able to hold his own successfully against Big 12 wide receivers on the outside.

Eric Reid should be on an NFL roster, but San Francisco might be fine without him. Jaquiski Tartt was breaking out at safety before he missed the second half of the season with a broken arm.

Numbers to know

13.6 percent: DeForest Buckner converted just 13.6 percent of his quarterback hits into sacks (22 and 3), the fourth-lowest rate in the league among defensive players with at least 10 hits. The league average is around 40 percent and a player’s conversion rate typically regresses to the mean from year-to-year. At 40 percent, Bucker would have tallied 8.8 sacks, which could indicate a breakout is coming in 2018.

298: Per Sharp Football Stats, no team ran more plays out of 21 personnel (two running backs) than the 49ers in 2017 (28 percent). Much of that was due to the investment in fullback Kyle Juszczyk, but the 2016 Falcons were also among the league leaders (24 percent) with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman seeing snaps at the same time.

1,232: In the six games Jimmy Garoppolo played, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin would have been on pace for a 1,232-yard 16-game season. He finished 2017 with 962 receiving yards despite being on pace for an 800-yard season before Garoppolo took over.

46 percent: While the NFL has become a shotgun league, the 49ers used shotgun or pistol on just 46 percent of offensive plays, the fourth-lowest rate in the league.

Opponent Q&A

David Fucillo of Niners Nation answered a few questions on the 2018 outlook for the 49ers:

Q: Who is more important to 2018 success: Kyle Shanahan or Jimmy Garoppolo?

A: In some ways this strikes me as a chicken and egg thing. While obviously not remotely as accomplished, it’s somewhat like when people ask whether or not Bill Belichick or Tom Brady deserves the most credit. Just to be clear, I am not saying they are the same!

But for this year, I’ll go with Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers need a big year from Jimmy Garoppolo, but if we see a strong performance I believe it will be because of the work Shanahan has done. Garoppolo was tossed into the deep end when he joined the 49ers, having to learn the basics of the playbook while also learning the weekly gameplan. Heading into the offseason, Shanahan talked about taking everything Garoppolo has done, breaking it down to the basics, and building back up. This is not necessarily about changing his basic mechanics of how he throws, but rather building him further into what Shanahan’s offense is meant to do. If they find success with that, both deserve credit, but for now, Shanahan will be the important one in that regard.

Shanahan will also be critical in the game-planning and play-calling. There was a hubbub when Jalen Ramsey downplayed what Jimmy G did against the Jaguars last season, and realistically, there is some truth to that. Garoppolo deserves credit for doing what Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard could not do, but Shanahan is a masterful play-calling. He knows how to find the mismatches and set the team up for success. Garoppolo and the rest of the team have to execute on those play calls, but for purposes of this question, I think Shanahan is the guy who will make or break this offense.

Q: There’s a lot of talent collected on the defensive side of the ball, but to this point it hasn’t all clicked together. What are the expectations for the unit for the season?

A: Things started to come together late in the season, but there were plenty of question marks. The big name addition was cornerback Richard Sherman. He appears to be on track to be practicing at training camp after tearing his Achilles last year. He joins Ahkello Witherspoon who had a solid rookie season, moving into the starting lineup halfway through the season. The secondary will also have a fairly inexperienced pair of safeties. Now fourth year safety Jaquiski Tartt was one of the starting safeties last year, but was put on IR halfway through the season. Adrian Colbert was a seventh round pick last year, but injuries provided a huge opportunity for him, and he was the team’s starting free safety six of the final seven games. He will start at free safety this year.

The secondary is going to need help from the pass rush, and that’s the other big question for the 49ers. The team declined their option on Elvis Dumervil, who happened to be their most prolific pass rusher last season with 6.5 sacks. They signed Jeremiah Attaochu this offseason, but otherwise made few moves. They extended Cassius Marsh, welcome back defensive end Arik Armstead from IR, and are moving second-year lineman Solomon Thomas to the LEO edge position. But for now, it’s hard to tell where exactly the pass rush will come from. Last year, DeForest Buckner led interior defensive linemen in quarterback hits, but struggled converting those hits into sacks. They need that to happen to develop this pass rush.

And of course, there’s Reuben Foster. He was the team’s most talented linebacker last season, but he struggled to stay healthy. He missed six games the first half of the season, and seemed to leave the field for a play or two with an injury regularly during the second half of the season. More important, this offseason he was arrested once for marijuana possession and a second time domestic violence and weapons possession. The domestic violence charges were later dismissed after the accuser recanted in court, but he has since been suspended the first two games of the season. How he handles himself off the field will determine just as much about his future as the injuries.

All of this is to say, there’s talent with this group, but it’s hard to tell what year two under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will bring. The team has invested on that side of the ball, but it’s not entirely clear what to expect.

Q: What is the most underrated aspect of this team heading into 2018?

A: The wide receivers. The 49ers drafted Dante Pettis in the second round of this year’s draft, but they already have an intriguing group of young pass catchers. Veteran Pierre Garçon will lead the way, but Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, and Kendrick Bourne will all be players to watch this year. Garçon was lost to a neck injury halfway through last season, but Goodwin emerged as a bona fide threat, finishing with a career high 56 receptions for 962 yards. Taylor was a strong slot receiver, particularly on third down. Bourne took some time to work his way into the mix, primarily because he missed the offseason workout program because of his academic calendar. He finished with 16 receptions for 257 yards, and has been getting rave reviews this offseason. Add Pettis into the mix, and this group will be big for Jimmy Garoppolo building on last year.

Q: If you had to pick a regular season record, what would it be?

A: After the schedule was released in April, I put together a preliminary game-by-game prediction for the season. I came up with a record of 10-6. This seems like a team that could finish between 7-9 and 10-6, but I’ll stick with the optimistic end of things. The key for the 49ers will be the first four games. That is arguably the toughest stretch, opening Minnesota, hosting Detroit, and then traveling to Kansas City and Los Angeles (Chargers). If they can come out of that 2-2, I think the high end of my prediction is very much achievable. At the same time, we know that not all the bad teams on their schedule will be bad, nor will all the good teams be good. But for now, I’ll stick with 10-6!