It's time to break down the San Francisco 49ers third road game of the 2015 season, a Week 5 matchup against the New York Giants.
The trio of 49ers.com writers returns with four topics to preview the matchup. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments section of this post.
1st Down: Which player forces the first turnover this week?
@Joe_Fann: Aaron Lynch
I know the 49ers intercepted Eli Manning five times last season, but they also recorded two sacks of the Giants quarterback. One of those sacks came from Lynch. And if the linebacker's performance against the Green Bay Packers is any indication, Lynch could be in for a big game in Week 5. Lynch tied for the team lead with six sacks as a rookie last season and is on pace for 12 sacks in 2015. The 49ers are due for a sack-fumble, and I think Lynch is going to be the man forcing the turnover. The takeaway won't come easy as the Giants have only allowed four sacks this season.
@TylerEmerick: Eric Reid
The third-year safety has had a slow start to the 2015 season, but this week he's facing a quarterback he picked off a year ago and a wide receiver he played with at LSU. Reid tallied one of five interceptions of Manning last year in the Meadowlands. Maybe the 49ers bring pressure on a 3rd-and-long and Manning sails a pass over Odell Beckham Jr. and into Reid's waiting arms. San Francisco only has two interceptions so far this season. The Giants like taking shots downfield, so the safeties will have plenty of chances to change that number on Sunday.
@TaylorPrice: Kenneth Acker
This is not a gratuitous selection because the starting cornerback was on our podcast this week. I'm taking "Ack" because of what he told reporters on Thursday. "I don't feel like I'm attacking the ball like I'm accustomed to," Acker said. Both starting cornerbacks, Acker and Tramaine Brock, are responsible for San Francisco's only takeaways of 2015. Acker recorded his first career interception in Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals. Since then, he's worked hard at trying to limit deep receptions. Acker said he's been utilizing the jugs machine after practice to simulate the high-point throws that he'll face from Manning on gameday. The Giants quarterback is averaging 35.8 pass attempts per game this season. Should San Francisco force a turnover on Sunday, it's likely to come in the form of an interception. Acker figures to be a good choice to record the game's first takeaway in this year's meeting.
2nd Down: Name a Giants player to watch besides Odell Beckham Jr. ...
@Joe_Fann: Rueben Randle
With Victor Cruz still on the shelf with a calf injury, Randle is Manning's clear number two receiver. Randle has scored in back-to-back games, highlighted by a seven-catch, 116-yard performance in Week 3 against Washington. The fourth-year receiver's two touchdowns are tied with Beckham Jr. for the most on the team. Randle is coming off of a season in which he caught 71 passes for 938 yards and three touchdowns. The pair of former LSU Tigers will be the focal point of the Giants passing game on Sunday.
@TylerEmerick: Larry Donnell
With 23 targets this season, Donnell is Manning's second-favorite target behind only Beckham. The tight end is a matchup nightmare in the red zone, as he stands 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. New York likes to give Donnell one-on-one opportunities inside the 20 by lining him up on the outside. Last season, Donnell caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers. How San Francisco tries to defend Donnell will be something to watch early on in the game. Jaquiski Tartt was drafted to cover guys like this.
@TaylorPrice: Jon Beason
New York's defensive captain will have a big role in matching up against Pierre Garçon. With Giants linebackers Devon Kennard (hamstring) and Jonathan Casillas (calf) unable to practice on for most of the week, Beason will have to anchor a 4-3 defensive scheme aimed to limit Hyde's production. Kennard has been ruled out for the game; Casillas is questionable to play. Also, starting defensive end Robert Ayers (hamstring) will not play. That means two members of New York's front seven won't suit up. The last time San Francisco's running back faced a 4-3 defense, he provided a career-high 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1. How Beason performs, and who lines up with him at linebacker, will play a major role in this game. The 49ers have talked about getting Hyde more involved after an eight-carry performance last week against Green Bay. That means Beason will have to make key stops on Hyde on early downs. Will he be able to do it? That's definitely something to watch on primetime.
3rd Down: What is the best way to get Colin Kaepernick in a rhythm early? @Joe_Fann: Score an early touchdown
An early score is the best way to calm everyone's nerves and it doesn't really matter who scores it. The 49ers have yet to score a first-quarter touchdown this season and haven't had a lead since their Week 1 win against the Vikings. Getting a touchdown on one of their first few drives will take some of the pressure off of the defense and help boost everyone's confidence on the offensive side of the football. Especially on the road, an early score will take a rowdy MetLife Stadium out of the game to some degree. @TylerEmerick: Screens/end arounds
Last week, Green Bay sent constant blitzes at Kaepernick, sacking the 49ers signal-caller six times. Postgame, Kaepernick told reporters that he believed getting the ball out quicker was the key to beating the pressure. Downfield routes aren't getting enough time to develop, so what better way to keep the Giants defense honest than to throw some misdirection its way? The 49ers picked up 40 yards against the Packers on a quick shovel pass to Quinton Patton, who was basically running an end around. And after being eased back into the rotation last week, Reggie Bush is always a candidate to break one loose on a screen. @TaylorPrice: Feed Hyde and Bush
A running game is a quarterback's best friend. If Hyde and Bush are able to chew up yards and convert first downs, that will immediately lift pressure off the 49ers quarterback. A heavy workload from the running duo, both in the ground game and short-passing attack, will do wonders in getting third downs into manageable distances for Kaepernick. It's worth noting that the Giants have the best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 69.8 yards per game. New York built its standing after games against rushing attacks that rank 16th (Dallas Cowboys), 13th (Atlanta Falcons), 1st (Washington) and 6th (Buffalo Bills) in the NFL, respectively. The 49ers rank 5th in the NFL, averaging 130.2 yards per game. Producing somewhere near that average should go a long way in helping Kaepernick come up big on Sunday.
4th Down: The 49ers will end a three-game slide if they... @Joe_Fann: Win the turnover battle
Sure, this would be an argument for every game, but it's even more of a focus for the 49ers this week. San Francisco owns a minus-5 turnover differential and has only forced two turnovers all season. Conversely, the Giants have a plus-5 turnover differential and have only turned the ball over twice. Manning's one interception through four games ties his career-best start to a season. If history is any indication, the Giants quarterback is due for a multiple-turnover outing. Manning has had at least one three-interception game in every season since 2005. The 49ers will aim to make that happen on Sunday.
@TylerEmerick: Hyde surpasses 100 yards
It won't be easy. Through Week 4, the Giants own the top-ranked run defense. Since Hyde's 168 yards and two scores in his first NFL start, he has totaled 114 yards in his last three games combined. The 49ers have made their living over the last few years as a power running team. Hyde getting going against New York is a must, especially on first and second down to put the offense in favorable third-down spots. The 49ers currently rank 20th in third-down efficiency at 37 percent.
@TaylorPrice: Play with swagger
No stats necessary with this selection. This is a gut feeling. When losses mount, it's harder to play with an air of invincibility. But that's what the 49ers need to do on Sunday. Kaepernick has taken this team to a Super Bowl. He's performed well on the brightest stages. Geep Chyrst talked about Kaepernick harnessing those experiences and using them to his advantage. "He's got to go back under the hood and correct and improve so that when he goes back out there (on primetime), he can look like the Colin who has gone out on a Monday night and performed well, who has gone out on a Sunday night, who has gone out in a playoff game and performed well," the OC said. This theory applies to all of the 49ers. Nobody in the NFL will hand over a victory on gameday. Each win has to be earned. It starts with how you enter the game emotionally. I get a sense that there are leaders on the team who will play with passion and the buzz-word de jour, "Swagger." If you see NaVorro Bowman bouncing around, hyped for pregame, then you know it's going to spread like wild fire. It's important for this team to play loose, play with passion and play to win.