Despite having only 10 of 22 available starters Sunday morning, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the New York Giants 36-9, improving their record to 2-1 and are now tied for second spot in the NFC West with the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams.
Heading into the 49ers Week 3 matchup, questions were being asked about the playing surface of Metlife Stadium, Nick Mullens’ adaptation into the starting quarterback role due to Jimmy Garoppolo’s high ankle sprain and the effectiveness of the defense in the team’s first game after Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas tore their ACLs.
The 49ers faced five injuries in Week 3, losing tight end Jordan Reed to an ankle and knee injury and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley to a concussion. Reed’s injuries are more concerning than Moseley’s, particularly with his knee injury, as he will miss six to eight weeks with an MCL sprain, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan. Reed has been put on the IR and could be back as early as Week 9 and as late as Week 12 due to the 49ers Week 11 bye. Shanahan also said Moseley’s concussion is day to day.
Shanahan said linebacker Mark Nzeocha will be placed on the IR with a quad injury, cornerback K’waun Williams had hip discomfort and will be looked at on Wednesday and running back Jerrick McKinnon is day to day with an upper rib injury. Things could have definitely been worse.
Mullens made fans wonder if the 49ers were actually at full strength, making aggressive throws and doing everything head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted him to do to put the team in a successful position to win. Performances from Jason Verrett, Kerry Hyder Jr., Javon Kinlaw and Dion Jordan showed the 49ers depth at important positions on the field.
Here are some takeaways from the 49ers Week 3 win heading into their Week 4 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night and further into the season.
1. When healthy, Jason Verrett should be strongly considered for the No. 2 corner for the 49ers.
Having only played six games in the past five years, the sixth year cornerback was asked to start in place of the second-string cornerback Akhello Witherspoon, who was a scratch late in the week due to a hamstring injury. When slotted into the starting role, Verrett showed how effective he can be when he is healthy.
Verrett allowed only two catches for nine yards in 28 coverage snaps in Sunday’s game.
Verrett also is very effective in man-to-man coverage, something the 49ers schematically have not gone to. When Richard Sherman comes back, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will have a tough decision to make with Verrett or Mosely at the other corner. Moseley may potentially have a higher ceiling than Verrett in the future, but Verrett showed yesterday his Pro Bowl potential against a team he needed to play well against. It will be interesting to see how he plays once he goes up against better wideouts such as Dolphins wide receiver Devante Parker and the Rams’ wideouts.
2. For people who haven’t figured it out yet, Kyle Shanahan is kinda good.
Without Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, Samuel, George Kittle, Reed and Weston Richburg, Shanahan made it seem like those guys were out on the field Sunday morning. Although the 49ers played the two struggling New York teams, Shanahan did what he was supposed to do against bad teams: run them out of the stadium. The 49ers had the ball for ⅔ of the game, finishing with 39:44 in total possession.
Furthermore, Shanahan does what he normally does with his quarterbacks: puts them in the best position to succeed. Against a struggling Giants defense, Shanahan created a game plan that allowed for Mullens to throw passes down field off play action, and Mullens returned the favor with his patience inside the pocket and lack of hesitation when throwing the ball in tight areas. Just imagine what Shanahan will do when he has all of his weapons at his disposal.
The one concern 49ers fans may have about Shanahan’s play calling yesterday was his lack of aggressiveness on fourth down. There were multiple opportunities where the 49ers were deep in Giants territory and elected to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down. With coaches like Andy Reid and John Harbaugh, there is no hesitation to go for it on fourth down against bad teams, but granted, maybe Shanahan’s lack of aggressiveness on fourth down may be due to personnel and not being put in many of those positions.
3. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel will be a scary WR tandem.
In his second game as a professional, Aiyuk tallied five receptions for 70 yards and three carries for 31 yards for his first touchdown of his promising career. Aiyuk’s route running and ability to get yards after the catch is reminiscent of a wide receiver they had last year that some 49ers fans wanted to keep: Emmanuel Sanders.
Aiyuk and Samuel bring only more creativity and aggressiveness to the already established genius of Kyle Shanahan. The two high draft picks are different players, but when 49ers fans see Aiyuk and Samuel on the field for the first time, don’t be surprised to see how well they will complement each other. Aiyuk as a true wide receiver threat combined with Samuel’s versatility and toughness will bring good vibes to the Bay Area.
Follow Vinny Saglimbeni on Twitter for more: @vinnysaglimbeni.