The 30-12 final score of the New York Giants’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night is somewhat misleading. On the one hand, the 49ers seemed to be more or less in control of the game from the start - there was never a moment when the Giants’ win probability even came remotely close to 50%. On the other hand, the Giants fought valiantly all night and kept the game close through three quarters. With five minutes remaining in the third quarter they trailed only 17-12. San Francisco slowly pulled away after that.
This was not a repeat of the Dallas debacle on opening night. Instead, it was a young team beset by injuries hanging in there against a real Super Bowl contender for the first time in the Brian Daboll era. The game showed how far the Giants still have to go, but it also showed how far they have come. Compare last night to the last time these teams met, in 2020: The 49ers, with Nick Mullen at quarterback, embarrassed the Giants 36-9 early in what was a 6-10 season for them.
What do Pro Football Focus grades and snap counts tell us about why this game played out the way it did? Let’s take a look.
- The Giants’ offense without Saquon Barkley, Andrew Thomas, and Ben Bredeson was very conservative, rarely taking shots more than 15 yards downfield against a fierce 49ers’ defensive line and their two elite linebackers. It shows in the PFF scores, with not a single offensive player grading above average (70.0). Darius Slayton and Wan’Dale Robinson were just short of that threshold. Robinson’s 2023 debut was notable though in that he looked like the same player we saw in 2022, with no obvious effects from his ACL injury. Expect to see more of him as the season progresses. Darren Waller and Parris Campbell had disappointing games. Isaiah Hodgins was targeted once and Jalin Hyatt not at all - there was a reason for that. Daniel Jones wasn’t awful but neither did he do much to make us take notice; the 49ers shut down Jones as a running threat.
- The offensive line collectively had their worst game of the season. That’s saying a lot considering how bad they looked against Dallas. PFF graded the collective performance of the OL in pass blocking at an almost subterranean 16.1. The run blocking wasn’t much better at 37.0. Aside from Matt Peart, who played only three snaps at OT and three more in jumbo packages, the highest graded offensive lineman was...wait for it...Evan Neal, at 45.3. That grade is in line with his two previous games. Neal was helped all evening by tight ends and running backs, but he was charged with only one QB hit and two hurries.
- The rest of the OL was ridiculously bad: John Michael Schmitz at 33.8, Shane Lemieux at 31.6, Marcus McKethan at 28.3, and Josh Ezeudu at 27.2. On 20 snaps in true pass sets, when Daboll and Mike Kafka weren’t scheming plays specifically to avoid pressure, these four graded 3.7, 1.7, 0.0, and 21.4 in pass blocking. Yikes. In fairness, Dallas and San Francisco are the two highest graded pass rushing teams in the NFL so far (of course part of the reason is that they’ve played the Giants, but their pass rush has been good in their other games too). The Giants’ OL will catch a little breather with games Week 4 against Seattle (27th in pass rush) and Week 6 against Buffalo (24th). If they can’t hold up in these games, presumably with Andrew Thomas back, then we can declare a full-blown OL crisis.
- The starting offensive line played the entire game except for Evan Neal, who exited late with an apparent ankle injury of unknown severity. The notable thing is the number of snaps for the line: Only 50, vs. 83 for San Francisco’s OL. That was the story of the game - the Giants couldn’t convert third downs and the 49ers consistently converted third downs.
- The Giants played a lot of two tight end sets, with Waller on the field for 41 of 50 plays and Daniel Bellinger for 30. Matt Breida carried the workload at running back with Saquon Barkley out; Gary Brightwell only had nine snaps on offense, and Eric Gray has not yet seen the field on offense this season.
- Slayton was the Giants’ workhorse at boundary wide receiver with 42 snaps; Hodgins was next with 33, while Hyatt had only 16 on a night when Jones had no time to go deep. Campbell, who has yet to find a real role on the field, played 21 snaps, and Robinson 11 — expect those numbers to reverse in the coming weeks as the Giants work Robinson into the offense more.
- The Giants’ interior defensive line, with the exception of Rakeem Nunez-Roches (43.4), had a pretty good night. Dexter Lawrence had another outstanding game (90.3), though his impact was more on run defense than pass rush, where he had 4 hurries but no sacks. Leonard Williams, who’d been fairly invisible the first two weeks, had clearly his best game of the season (89.8), also with 4 pressures but with a sack and two QB hits. The big surprise was D.J. Davidson, with an outstanding 87.8 defense grade (83.5 on pass rush) that included a sack and a hurry. Granted, Wink Martindale blitzed an outrageous fraction of the time in this game, but the IDL mostly got the job done.
- The real story of why the Giants lost this game, though, was their inability to get off the field on third down. San Francisco receivers got two-thirds of their yardage after the catch. Although they have highly skilled, tough receivers and runners in Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey, the flip side is that the Giants are an awful tackling team (fourth worst in the NFL as a team so far at 43.0). The Giants actually tackled well against Dallas, about the only thing they did well (86.1), but they consistently missed tackles in Arizona (40.5) and absolutely fell into the abyss last night (29.7). Tre Hawkins, Micah McFadden, Jason Pinnock and Bobby Okereke all had three missed tackles. Xavier McKinney had two.
- Not everyone was at fault: Isaiah Simmons (77.9), Adoree’ Jackson (76.9), Oshane Ximines (75.1), and a few others had above average tackling grades. The real culprit was the secondary: Jason Pinnock (25.8), Tre Hawkins (26.3), Deonte Banks (30.1), and Xavier McKinney (48.0). Yes, the 49ers have very physical skill players. No, that’s not an excuse for not wrapping up. If they think that performance is in the rear view mirror, guess what? DK Metcalf up next. The Giants better get this fixed in a hurry.
- Tre Hawkins III had his first really bad game as a Giant (39.3). He missed 3 tackles, gave up 2 receptions in 2 targets, and allowed 17 YAC. The other cornerbacks played better: Darnay Holmes (73.1), Deonte Banks (71.1), and Adoree’ Jackson (66.7). At safety, Jason Pinnock played poorly (49.3) while Xavier McKinney was mediocre (60.5); both joined the growing Giants “I don’t like to tackle” club. (In case you’re wondering, Julian Love has graded 40.7 through two games in Seattle, so it’s not as if Joe Schoen chose the wrong safety to cut ties with.)
Some other players of note because their scores didn’t jibe with my real-time impressions:
- Micah McFadden (47.2) - I thought McFadden played his best game as a Giant last night, flying around and knifing into the backfield for losses, but PFF thought otherwise. It’s probably because he missed three tackles and gave up 5 receptions in 5 targets for 28 yards (including 21 YAC), but on the other hand, he had 9 tackles and 2 assists, including 5 stops (tackles that are seen as a failure for the offense).
- Kayvon Thibodeaux (28.4) - Thibodeaux, who has been under the microscope this week, responded with two pressures, including his first sack. PFF though noted that he missed on one of his two tackle attempts and allowed two catches in two targets with 14 YAC. He, like other Giants including Boogie Basham (invisible so far as a Giant), Nunez-Roches (visible for the wrong reasons), and Jihad Ward (ditto), were poor against the run.
- In defense of Pinnock and McKinney, as well as Bobby Okereke, they were on the field for all 83 49ers offensive snaps. You’d probably be saying of tackling Kittle and Samuel, “Yeah, maybe later” after that much work. Jackson, who did tackle well, played all but three snaps. Likewise, Thibodeaux played 72 snaps, an insane amount for an edge defender.
- A’Shawn Robinson played 45 snaps last night; to my eye he was out on the field at the same time as Lawrence and Williams quite a bit. Davidson is clearly third in the pecking order of backup IDLs after Robinson and Nunez-Roches (and apparently now ahead of Jordon Riley), but if he continues to play like he did last night, Nacho could find himself on the sideline looking for some salsa to pass the time.
- Darnay Holmes’ 15 snaps after Tae Banks’ injury were by far his highest of the season after only playing 4 downs against Dallas and not at all against Arizona. As mentioned above, he played well, while Hawkins did not. This will be something to watch in the coming weeks - will Holmes supplant Hawkins in the starting lineup against some teams, with Jackson moving back to boundary?
We usually don’t mention special teams in these pieces, but we have to acknowledge two outstanding performances last night:
- Jamie Gillan had by far his best game as Giants punter (78.6). His 60-yard punt from the Giants’ end zone, drifting left toward the sideline where the returner had to fair catch or go out of bounds at the 32, completely flipped the field at a moment where it looked like San Francisco was going to be able to take control of the game. Gillan has been criticized for outkicking his coverage and having poor directional control, but last night he was great.
- Graham Gano supposedly was missing field goals from 53 yards out in warmups last night. When the bell rang, though, he easily made a 57-yarder late in the first half to get a little momentum back for the Giants after they had fallen behind 17-3. Gano’s routine excellence is overlooked too often.