49ers vs. Giants: What's the Game Plan for San Francisco?

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyFeatured Columnist IVOctober 10, 2015

Can quarterback Colin Kaepernick bounce back against a suspect Giants defense?
Can quarterback Colin Kaepernick bounce back against a suspect Giants defense?Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers are in danger of being embarrassed on Sunday Night Football when they travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the New York Giants in Week 5.

At 1-3, the 49ers need to get back on track as they take on a Giants squad riding a two-game winning streak. 

And the offense will have to be at the heart of the equation. But what will the 49ers' game plan be?

New York's defense against the run is stout. Not once this season have the Giants given up more than 90 yards rushing in a single contest. But their defense is vulnerable against the passing game, which opens up opportunities for slumping quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

How can the 49ers get their offense going while limiting the potential of Giants quarterback Eli Manning and New York's offense?

Let's break down San Francisco's offensive and defensive game plans in preparation for this week's contest.

Kaepernick couldn't evade a strong Packers pass rush in Week 3 and suffered as a result.
Kaepernick couldn't evade a strong Packers pass rush in Week 3 and suffered as a result.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press/Associated Press
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Offensive Game Plan

The biggest storyline from the 49ers' efforts in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers was Kaepernick's continued struggles.

San Francisco's struggling signal-caller managed just 13 completions for 160 yards and an interception, which led to a passer rating of just 67.7—not much of a step up from his disastrous Week 3 performance against the Arizona Cardinals.

Kaepernick was also sacked six times, which has pushed his season total to 14.

The offensive line has to bear a portion of the blame for these numbers. According to Pro Football Focus, San Francisco's O-line has a minus-6.3 season grade in pass protection. Even more troubling is this unit's minus-17.1 overall grade in run blocking.

O-line issues, the recent lack of a strong ground game and Kaepernick's ongoing problems have combined to make the 49ers offense one of the league's worst, as seen by the B/R Insights graphic below:

Credit: B/R Insights

Let's take a look at a part of the problem from this red-zone drive in Week 3.

Green Bay's defense will bring a blitz on this play, and the Packers' pass-rusher (red circle), who eventually gets the sack after edging around left tackle Joe Staley, will apply the blindside pressure. Note the two 49ers receiving options toward the bottom of the play (yellow arrows).

Green Bay's defense will bring down Kaepernick on this play. But the quarterback did have open options (yellow arrows).
Green Bay's defense will bring down Kaepernick on this play. But the quarterback did have open options (yellow arrows).Credit: NFL.com

Staley is going to be beat here. But Kaepernick still has an option to step up in the pocket and deliver a quick throw to one of his open targets. Note how the quarterback has two options right in front of him. One has beaten his man in the end zone.

At this moment, Kaepernick still has time for a quick throw. Two open receivers are in position to receive a pass.
At this moment, Kaepernick still has time for a quick throw. Two open receivers are in position to receive a pass.Credit: NFL.com

Instead, Kaepernick hesitates and goes down. Take a look at some of his open targets.

Forty-niners' red-zone drives have a tendency to move backward in 2015.

Kaepernick takes the sack while the 49ers have open targets in or near the end zone.
Kaepernick takes the sack while the 49ers have open targets in or near the end zone.Credit: NFL.com

One should note the Giants have the league's best defense against the run. The defense has allowed just 279 yards on the ground, which figures to make life difficult for running back Carlos Hyde and the 49ers' rushing attack.

But, in contrast, New York has given up the most passing yards in the NFL so far (1,265). The Giants' pass defense has a minus-18.1 pass-coverage grade, per PFF.

Part of the issue has been the lack of pressure from New York's defense. The Giants have only five sacks on the season—the league's second-fewest.

Should we expect a different approach from offensive coordinator Geep Chryst—one that focuses more on a pass-heavy task?

Perhaps. But this will fall upon the shoulders of Kaepernick and his receiving corps to execute properly, which is something that hasn't been seen much this season.

Covering wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will be a tall order for the 49ers defense.
Covering wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will be a tall order for the 49ers defense.Elsa/Getty Images

Defensive Game Plan

New York's West Coast offense presents a similar challenge to the 49ers faced in Week 3.

Safety Eric Reid pointed out how this could be a factor in San Francisco's defensive preparations when he appeared on KNBR 680 during the week.

The Giants figure to move the ball effectively through the air against a 49ers defense allowing an average of 303.7 yards per game, which ranks No. 28 in the league.

Credit: B/R Insights

One weapon of concern is Giants No. 1 wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who is leading all New York receivers, with 307 yards and two touchdowns. Reid will likely be asked to provide coverage assistance against his former LSU teammate.

But a large portion of the 49ers coverage schemes will focus on the matchup between Beckham and second-year defensive back Jimmie Ward.

Ward had an impressive effort versus Packers No. 1 receiver Randall Cobb last week and posted a plus-0.7 PFF grade during the game. Joe Fann, 49ers team reporter, provided stats to illustrate how well Cobb played:

Covering Beckham will be a challenge for Ward when New York uses three-wide sets on offense. But Ward is up for the challenge.

“Odell gets in the slot, and he’s shifty a little bit, but not as shifty as Cobb," Ward said, per Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. "I see he has some of the same traits. If it’s s [sic] scramble route, he’s going to go the opposite way.

“He (Beckham) goes and gets the ball. He comes back for it. He’s going to get the ball no matter what. If the ball goes out of bounds, he’s still going to catch it. He’s trying to build that rhythm, too. He feels like he’s going to catch any ball that the quarterback throws to him. He’s a feisty player. He’s going to fight the whole game.”

Ward will have to be on guard since Beckham is always capable of making the incredible catch. He almost pulled off yet another, as seen in this NFL.com video:

Should the 49ers be able to contain Beckham, San Francisco's defensive front seven can focus on bringing down Manning. This hasn't been an easy task as the veteran has been sacked only four times on the year. New York's O-line has done a solid job protecting their quarterback.

Look for linebacker Aaron Lynch to try and force pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Look for linebacker Aaron Lynch to try and force pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Key Players and Matchups

Beckham versus Ward is already an intriguing matchup in Sunday's game. And the same could be said of the 49ers receiving corps against a questionable Giants secondary.

But much of the focus of this game will come at the line of scrimmage.

Putting pressure on Kaepernick will be another focal point for the Giants defense. It will try to replicate what was shown in the aforementioned red-zone breakdown. 

This means pressure on the 49ers O-line and, specifically, focusing on the matchup between right guard Jordan Devey and Giants tackle Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins has two sacks on the season, while Devey boasts a minus-9.1 PFF grade over four games. Devey has also allowed 12 quarterback pressures.

On the flip side, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch will want to replicate his strong Week 3 efforts—a game in which he had two sacks.

Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini will have to figure out ways to allow Lynch to replicate his previous pass-rushing efforts especially with fellow linebacker Ahmad Brooks unavailable as the veteran mourns the death of his sister.

And yet the focus will continue to fall on Kaepernick. Will fans see a quarterback "righting the ship" in the wake of back-to-back blunders? Or will Kaepernick's issues continue to spiral out of control in the national spotlight?

Can Kaepernick get the best of Manning in Week 4 and turn the 49ers' fortunes around?
Can Kaepernick get the best of Manning in Week 4 and turn the 49ers' fortunes around?Bill Kostroun/Associated Press/Associated Press

Prediction

The Giants want to continue their recent winning streak, while the 49ers are looking to end a three-game skid.

Desperation may play into San Francisco during this Sunday Night Football contest. Head coach Jim Tomsula's team has already made statements how the 49ers are, truly, better than what has been seen in recent weeks.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith was one such player to have these sentiments.

“We’re better offensively than how we’re playing," Smith said via Joe Fann of 49ers.com. "To be honest, we work too hard to go out on Sundays and play like that. Tomsula doesn’t deserve this. The fans don’t deserve to watch the way we play. We got to get this thing right, now.”

Both teams' passing games figure to be the difference-makers Sunday. And similar offensive schemes faced in Weeks 3 and 4 help give the 49ers a bit of an advantage here.

Credit: B/R Insights

But the outcome will be the result of proper execution, in-game adjustments and the ever-so important turnover differential.

Let's hope the 49ers get their woes cleaned up a bit and come away with a much-needed 20-17 victory against the Giants.

All statistics, injury reports, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a Featured Columnist covering the San Francisco 49ers for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterPanacy on Twitter.