The New York Giants likely saved their season on Sunday with a historic comeback against the Arizona Cardinals.
The G-Men fell behind 20-0 -- after a 40-zip blanking Week 1 at the hands of the Cowboys -- but eventually rallied back from down 21 in the third quarter, scoring on all five second-half possessions to pull off a comeback for the ages in a 31-28 victory.
But there’s a catch.
Saquon Barkley suffered an ankle injury late in that game and will miss Thursday's game. This is a Giants offense that opened the floodgates in the second half of Week 2, but everything we’d seen prior to that was pretty ugly.
If there’s ever a spot for Daniel Jones to have the game of his life, it’s here. Jones lit it up in the second half against Arizona but had trouble getting in a groove before halftime. This year Jones has taken 10 sacks, while being counted on for his running ability (22 rush attempts) more often than he ever has. His number could be called even more on the ground with Barkley unavailable.
The 49ers arguably have been the NFL’s best team through two games, right alongside the Cowboys. San Francisco buried the Steelers in Week 1, but faced a stiffer test at the Rams this past Sunday. Nonetheless, the 49ers are 2-0 on the road this season and return home for this prime-time game against the Giants in pretty good shape health-wise.
Here are four things to watch for when the Giants visit the 49ers on Thursday night on Prime Video:
- How much will the 49ers ride Christian McCaffrey in a short week? McCaffrey is tied for the league lead in touches and is second in yards from scrimmage through two weeks. He’s been an absolute workhorse thus far, playing 91.7% of the offensive snaps. Will the 49ers lean on him as much during a short-week game? Perhaps we’ll see more of Elijah Mitchell, who has barely been used so far. Maybe Deebo Samuel hops into the backfield occasionally despite limited looks from that spot in two games. Either way, the Giants will have their hands full with McCaffrey, who makes the 49ers’ offense go. They’ve lost two of the 15 games he’s played for the 49ers since last year's midseason trade. The Giants have done a good job the past two years against receiving backs under coordinator Wink Martindale, but they still are too soft against the run. After ranking dead last last season in rush yards before contact (2.5), the Giants sit at 27th so far in 2023 (2.0 yards). Missed tackles have been a problem, too, with Micah McFadden and Jason Pinnock among the guilty parties. The Cowboys' Tony Pollard and the Cardinals' James Conner had strong games against the Giants, and McCaffrey could be the next to eat.
- With Saquon Barkley out, Giants need alternate sources. Giants head coach Brian Daboll initially left the door slightly ajar for Barkley to play, but the ankle injury was too much for Barkley to overcome in such a short turnaround. The Giants now will be without the back responsible for 29 of their 33 handoffs and two of their four offensive TDs; Barkley also is tied for their leading receiver and is second in targets. Matt Breida, who began his career in San Francisco, should be the lead back in Barkley’s place. In Breida's last start, in Week 18 last season, he totaled 40 yards on 11 touches. Can the Giants somehow forge a run game in this one? On paper, it looks extremely tough. According to Next Gen Stats, the Niners have allowed only four of 32 opponent runs to gain more yards than expected this season (13.8%, first in the NFL). Since the start of the 2022 season, they are by far the stingiest run defense in terms of RYOE allowed at minus-275; the next-closest team, Baltimore, is at minus-99.
- Daniel Jones needs his deep shots against the 49ers’ secondary. In the first six quarters of the season, Jones completed 24 of 44 passes for 166 yards and three interceptions. In the second half Sunday, Jones completed 17 of 21 for 259 yards and two TDs. So it’s fair to say that the Giants’ passing game has been a bit inconsistent. However, that second half saw TE Darren Waller break out with five catches, WR Jalin Hyatt catch deep balls for 58 and 31 yards and WR Darius Slayton catch balls of 29, 15 and 18 yards. Is it a sign they’re capable of more explosive plays? Perhaps, and the 49ers secondary limps into the game with Samuel Womack on IR and Ambry Thomas questionable with a knee injury. They’ve allowed the 10th-most pass yards but the sixth-fewest yards per pass play (4.9). Can Hyatt’s speed stress this secondary? Can Daboll scheme up downfield looks? It’ll be tough, especially as the 49ers’ pass rush looks to heat up the Giants’ shaky pass blocking. Nick Bosa is looking for his first sack of the season, and Giants LT Andrew Thomas is out with a hamstring injury.
- Brock Purdy looks to keep humming vs. big play-deficient Giants defense. Despite undergoing major offseason elbow reconstruction, Purdy has been mostly excellent so far, completing two-thirds of his passes, not turning the ball over and averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt. Even when opponents know where the ball is going, the 49ers are hard to stop. Only five players have caught passes for them so far, with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk (questionable, shoulder) leading the way so far. It says something that the 49ers are averaging more yards and points per game so far than in 2022, and McCaffrey and TE George Kittle have yet to go off as pass catchers. Purdy’s biggest problem Sunday was on deep passes, where he overthrew three long attempts. The Giants have not been gutted by the pass this season, but their lack of big plays is concerning: zero sacks, zero INTs and one forced fumble. They’re currently starting rookie CBs Deonte Banks and Tre Hawkins III on the outside, with Adoree’ Jackson lining up in multiple spots. Martindale plays a lot of man coverage, but can those DBs hold up without a better pass rush? Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux must be bigger factors and throw Purdy’s timing off more than they have vs. Dak Prescott and Joshua Dobbs.