For new Giants head coach Joe Judge and his revamped roster, an early-season tilt against the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers at home will be an early test of fortitude as San Francisco looks to defend their conference title.
The series between the Giants and 49ers was a staple of the 1980s. The matchup that featured some memorable games played, including the 1990 NFC Championship game, which the Giants won 15-13 to end the 49ers quest for a "three-peat" in the Super Bowl.
More recently, the Giants and 49ers have split their last four games dating back to 2014, with each team winning at home and on the road. The last meeting between the two teams was on Monday night, November 12, 2018, in Santa Clara, a 27-23 Giants win. In that game, quarterback Eli Manning threw his 350th career touchdown pass
While the two teams might be on opposite ends of the spectrum, the overall series has been a close one. In 41 combined meetings (regular- and postseason) the Giants lead 21-20, and the scoring in those 41 games is separated by five points (Giants 843, 49ers 838).
For the 2020 Giants, the 49ers are a shining example of the dramatic turnarounds that are possible in the NFL, and an example the Giants might hope to follow. After four straight losing seasons in 2015-18, San Francisco finally put it all together with a 13-3 mark last year that included an 8-0 start, a run that took them from the NFC cellar to a Super Bowl run under head coach Kyle Shanahan last year.
For a Giants team coming off three straight losing seasons and six in the last seven years, the 49ers will present a challenge and a model for Judge, who has preached the importance of not beating oneself with mistakes.
The game will feature a reunion of sorts between Judge, Giants quarterbacks coach Jerry Schlupinski, and 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. All three were members of the Patriots in 2016, with Schulpinski, then an offensive assistant and the Patriots assistant quarterbacks coach, primarily responsible for grooming the Patriots' backup quarterbacks, of which Garoppolo was one.
“I can’t even tell you how many conversations I had with Jerry just man-to-man, helping me out and getting me acclimated to the NFL life,” Garoppolo once told WEEI.com. “I really thank him for that. I probably wouldn’t be where I am at without him.”
By The Numbers
- Giants lead all-time series 21-20
- All-time postseason series tied at 4-4
- Since 1970 NFL-AFL merger 49ers lead series 18-17
- Since 2000 Giants lead series 7-5
- Last four meetings since 2014 split at 2-2
- First meeting: November 9, 1952, 49ers 14 @ Giants 23
- Last meeting: November 12, 2018, Giants 27 @ 49ers 23
- Largest Giants margin of victory: January 4, 1987 (Divisional Round) 49ers 3 @ Giants 49
- Largest 49ers margin of victory: January 14, 1994 (Divisional Round) Giants 3 @ 49ers 44
Key Matchup: 49ers TE George Kittle vs. Giants S Xavier McKinney
Fantasy football enthusiasts have known for years that a sure-fire way to remain competitive each week was to add whatever tight end was scheduled to face the Giants defense for the week.
That strategy held true last year as well as the Giants defense allowed opposing tight ends to catch 74 of 118 pass targets (62.7%) for 825 yards and eight touchdowns, according to CBS Fantasy Football Stats, a completion percentage not too far off from the 66% allowed to opposing receivers.
Getting back to the Giants, they allowed 13 big-play pass completions to tight ends that went for 20 or more yards.
With that lack of speed unable to keep up with tight ends, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman prioritized adding speed to the defense. It's a good thing he did, as the 49ers' best offensive skill position player happens to be tight end George Kittle.
Kittle had 85 catches for 1,053 yards with five touchdowns and delivered some of the best run-blocking by any tight end in the league.
As the quarterback's favorite target for San Francisco's leader in catches and receptions, Kittle built a strong connection with Garoppolo. Against the Giants, Kittle will face a defense that will look to improve on the 51.3 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game allowed to opposing tight ends in 2019.
Under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, the Giants defense could bring back the three-high safety set among its arsenal in keeping opposing receivers and tight ends from exploiting the middle of the field. A significant addition on defense for the Giants is second-round draft pick Xavier McKinney, the safety out of Alabama.
There are some questions as to whether McKinney is a lockdown safety in coverage. Still, when put to the test, he more often than not came through in his matchup assignments against tight ends in coverage at Alabama. Before flipping his hips with clean transitions to work into the trail position, McKinney possesses the length to press or disrupt inside the contact window.
Kittle's size and strength are a stark advantage against the thinner and shorter McKinney and would appear to give the 49ers a matchup advantage if they can isolate him against McKinney in coverage. But McKinney is a very physical defensive back, and he'll have to bring every ounce of physicality he can to disrupt the catch point of any balls targeted for Kittle.
Kittle will also likely see a fair share of underneath routes, which will fall on the tackling responsibility of McKinney in man coverage, which could play well into McKinney's skill set as a sure downhill tackler at the second level.
McKinney rarely missed any tackles in college, which is a plus if he can continue that in the NFL. If the Giants can take away Garoppollo's favorite target--Kittle caught 25.6% of the 49ers completed passes last year--that would be a big step in the right direction.