Like the majority of their upcoming games this season, the San Francisco 49ers will be heading to Phoenix, Arizona to play a home game against the Buffalo Bills Monday night. The 5-6 49ers look to be .500 for the first time since Week 8, and the 8-3 Bills look to gain more ground in the AFC East as well as get closer to a higher seed in the AFC Playoff picture.
The 49ers will have quarterback Nick Mullens out on the field Monday night after taking over for starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after Garoppolo suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 8 against the Seattle Seahawks. In six starts this season, Mullens has a 2-4 record, throwing for 1,642 yards to complement his six touchdowns and seven interceptions. In all seven games he’s played this season, Mullens has completed 67.5% of his throws and averaged 8.0 yards per attempt.
Even though Mullens has struggled and perhaps won’t be the future starting quarterback for the 49ers, Mullens has shown he can do just enough to put the 49ers in great positions to win, as many would consider him one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. Anyone would benefit from having Mullens in their locker room, as his high character, high football IQ, intelligence and leadership brings stability and positivity to the organization.
Mullens will be faced with a tough test against the Bills Monday night. Sean McDermott is one of the best head coaches in the league, and Tremaine Edmunds and Tre'Davious White are two of the best defensive players in the entire NFL, so the challenge presented to Mullens in a primetime game looms large. However, Mullens is more than capable of winning this game and, if he does, this will be a statement game for him and the 49ers in an extremely important game on their calendar.
Here are some of the things that will allow Mullens to be successful Monday night against the Bills:
1. RUN THE BALL
This is a key every week for the 49ers, as the identity of the team is to run the ball early and often. Tailback Raheem Mostert is back in the lineup following his influential game against the Rams the previous week, which will help Mullens in a big way. The Bills defense has given up 4.7 yards per attempt on the run, and Mostert averages almost 6 yards per carry.
With Mostert in the lineup along with the dual threat ability of Deebo Samuel, the 49ers can take advantage of the No. 25 ranked run defense in the NFL and use it to establish their identity, allowing for Mullens to open up the field with play-action passing.
2. PLAY-ACTION PASSING
Along with the identity of running the ball, part of the 49ers identity also has to do with the play-action game of Kyle Shanahan. Brandon Aiyuk will be back for the 49ers this week, and with weapons like Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Jordan Reed, Richie James and Ross Dwelley at his disposal, Mullens is set up nicely to produce in this game.
Mullens is much more efficient with play action. In 62 passing attempts he has thrown for 554 yards, almost 9 yards per attempt compared to the 7.5 yards per attempt on non-play-action plays. While also completing passes at a higher rate in play action, Mullens is at his best in the play-action game, and they will need that if they want to win against the Bills Monday night.
3. PUT THE BALL IN THE HANDS OF YOUR PLAYMAKERS
The 49ers have stud playmakers all over the field: Mostert, Jeff Wilson, Kyle Juszcyzk Aiyuk, Samuel, Reed, Dwelley, James Jr. (just to name a few). Putting the ball in their hands and letting them do what they do best will serve the 49ers well. On his end, all Mullens has to do is protect the football by making the simple throws Shanahan has designed for him and have no fear when throwing those passes. More times than not Shanahan will have those players with five to 10 yards of space around them, so throwing on time to his playmakers will be important for Mullens in this game.
If Mullens can limit the mistakes and get the win for the 49ers against the Bills, regardless of how the rest of the season goes, he has earned his spot as a quarterback in the NFL for good.