In the game touted as “the last battle of the Bay” the 49ers embarassed the Raiders 34-3 on Thursday Night Football. Coming into this game the 49ers had questions surrounding the health of CJ Beathard who was nursing wrist soreness which provided a chance for Practice Squad quarterback Nick Mullens. Making his first ever start in the NFL on national television he did not disappoint, completing 16/22 passes for 260 yards and yes three touchdowns. The best stat was his zero turnovers – a pleasant surprise and dare I say an improvement from what we’ve seen from Beathard. Is it fool’s gold? Or is it reflective of how terrible the Raiders are under Jon Gruden? We will soon find out if the 49ers have found themselves a gem in Mullens who might have earned himself another chance to play on Monday night against the New York Football Giants who are struggling as well.

A quick word on the Raiders before I consider the 49ers’ performance against the Raiders and their chances of repeating. I fully understand rebuilding the team and stockpiling picks to do it, but what I cannot comprehend is how do the Raiders intend to sell their fan base on a move to Las Vegas whilst not being close to winning? They’re created holes on this roster – wide receiver, edge rusher, safety, linebacker, corner… even their offensive line has regressed and the young players drafted on that line look out of their depth. I’m happy to be a 49ers fan right now because we have a plan with actually direction and some talent to go with it. The next time I get down on them I will remember at least we’re not the Raiders! On to the film.

 

Offense

The only place you can start, how about Nick Mullens?! We should have known how Thursday night was going to go when Kyle Shanahan went four receivers on the first play of Mullens’ NFL career. A quick strike to Goodwin for a first down and some very good man management from the head coach getting a young player’s nerves out of the way with a safe completion.

The game plan from Kyle Shanahan was impressive, calling plays to get his quarterback over the nervousness of making his first start on a short week. There is absolutely no doubt Shanahan can produce similarly against a Giants’ defense that has parted ways with some key pieces and sees others underperforming. If Nick Mullens displays the same beautiful touch and accuracy throughout the game, demonstrated best by this 25 yard strike to Garcon, the 49ers offense can continue playing up to their coach’s genius.

Mullens also showed he can improvise and showed toughness standing in the pocket under pressure delivering to George Kittle for a first down. Against a Giants defense that loves to blitz under DC James Bettcher, Mullens’ poise and pre-snap savvy will have to be on display once again.

Nick Mullens did have one worrisome moment in the redzone – the 49ers will hope he learns from this (where he was fortunately unpunished) as they will need to take their chances against a Giants side whose offense has talents who can punish you from all over the field.

He quickly bounced back with a veteran like move, going through his progressions and halting the safeties just enough to create a lane to find Kendrick Bourne for a TD. Bourne’s ability to create space in short areas has the trust of the 49ers’ quarterbacks, and with a combination of inexperience and poor quality at nickel corner and linebacker, Mullens should be looking Bourne’s way again on Monday in the red zone.

George Kittle continued to show his quality as well against the Raiders, as he continues to make a serious case to be considered as one of the top tight five ends in the NFL. He’s another player who can certainly take advantage of the Giants’ coverage struggles over the middle.

Coupled with a passing game executing consistently, the 49ers impressive running game continued against the Raiders with all Breida and Mostert enjoying fruitful days. The latter carried for 86 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t avoid the injury bug that plagues San Francisco. With the Giants moving on from the best pure run-stuffing defensive tackle in football, the 49ers should lean on their running game to achieve a good balance on offense. Β As an offensive line lover, watching the 49ers utilise their rushing offense is all the more attractive given it gives us more opportunities to see plays like the one below, with Mike McGlinchey out in front. He has gone from strength to strength during his rookie season.

Whilst we discuss the 49ers’ offense, it’s worth appreciating Shanahan, who’s categorically not on the “hot seat”! His ability to marry his run game to his play action bootlegs is probably the best in the NFL. After attacking the Raiders on the ground he goes back to a similar formation but this time it wasn’t a run it was a touchdown to a wide open Pierre Garcon. The Raiders’ safeties and corners were left helpless on this play. Defenses routinely struggle to key the 49ers’ intentions, the struggling Giants ought to be no different.

That being said, former Giant Weston Richburg won’t like to see this again. His power (or lack of) at the point of attack will be known in New York, let’s hope the Giants don’t punish it like the Raiders did on this goal line stuff.

If Nick Mullens continues to execute Kyle Shanahan’s game plan, and talents like George Kittle and Kendrick Bourne can take advantage of the Giants’ struggles in coverage, the offense should be well capable of performing in Primetime once again.

 

Defense

The 49ers’ defense showed up to torment Derek Carr who is surely on the verge of turning into his brother David if he doesn’t get some protection soon. There was a slight concern with the 49ers’ run defense, which gave up over one hundred rushing yards – this will need to better against Saquon Barkley. However, being able to sack and fluster the Raiders’ quarterback led to a much better day on TNF for the 49ers secondary (who would have thought?!) and that must continue if the 49ers’ defense is to continue to improve as the season progresses. Eight sacks from all over the defensive line… I can get used to that and the 49ers will be hoping to replicate that rushing performance against a Giants offensive line that, whilst not being coached by Tom Cable, isn’t particularly effective itself.

DeForest Buckner remains the key piece of the 49ers’ pass rush. He’ll be coming up against a Giants’ interior that includes the monstrous rookie Will Hernandez, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Bucker. Here, he beats a double team and brings the quarterback down.

The game against the Raiders also provided a glimpse at what actually having edge rushers who can get to the quarterback does for a defense. Even moving Pro Bowler Kelechi Osemele to tackle couldn’t stem the tide once Dekoda Watson had got going. His return could be huge for the 49ers moving forwards.

In addition to improvement from the defensive line in the passing game, Fred Warner had a solid game against Oakland, showing the 49ers actually know how to tackle and play coverage. His awareness of what is going on around him and his understanding of the defense is extremely impressive for a rookie. With Reuben Foster still out with injury against the Giants, Warner will be leant on heavily to show out in the middle of the 49ers’ defense and continue his impressive rookie season.

 

Conclusion

After stopping the bleeding on TNF, the 49ers have the chance to continue their mini-revival against the Giants tomorrow. We will continue to get to evaluate young players on the roster like Nick Mullens, who read blitzes and continued to hit his hot receiver high stood him apart from previous incumbent CJ Beathard. The Giants will provide another test of Mullens and his fellow 49ers, but their struggles and improvements on show vs the Raiders suggest the 49ers can beat the blue half of New York for the second time in two years on Monday Night Football.