W2W4: Jets vs. 49ers
September, 27, 2012
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets begin Week 4 atop the AFC East. Funny, but they don't seem like a first-place team. They played a sloppy game last week and lost their best player, and now they face the 49ers (2-1), one of the most talented teams in the league. A victory would say a lot about the Jets' resolve.
Basically, the 49ers are what the Jets (2-1) aspire to be -- a ground-and-pound team that controls the ball, makes the quarterback a game manager and plays great defense and special teams. Let's see whether the Jets can out-49er the 49ers.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. Sunday at MetLife Stadium. What to watch for:
1. Wilson Island: Kyle Wilson has been waiting two-plus years for this shot. Darrelle Revis is done for the season, and now we get to see Wilson -- the Jets' No. 1 pick in 2010 -- in a full-time role. Scouts say the knock on him is that he doesn't have great catch-up speed, but that may not be a huge factor this week. 49ers QB Alex Smith doesn't take many deep shots on the outside. In fact, his average pass attempt outside the painted numbers is only 7.4 yards (27th in the league), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Wilson could see a lot of WR Michael Crabtree, assuming Antonio Cromartie draws Randy Moss. In nickel situations, Wilson will slide inside to cover Mario Manningham. The good news for the Jets' secondary is that the 49ers don't use a lot of three-receiver packages. In fact, they've run only 46 plays with three-plus receivers, the second fewest in the league, per ESPN Stats.
2. Searching for an identity: The Jets' offense, which has produced only two touchdowns on its past 23 possessions, is all over the place. One week it's a fast start and lousy finish; the next week it's the reverse. Where's the consistency? In meetings this week, Tony Sparano is trying to build off the final 15-20 plays of last week's overtime win in Miami. Positive reinforcement is a good idea, considering the opponent. The 49ers have a tough, well-disciplined defense with playmakers on all three levels. Their two ILBs, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, can torpedo any rushing attack. Their defense has forced a turnover in eight straight games. The Jets will have to execute almost flawlessly to have a chance.
3. Mark, Tone & Co.: You don't have to be a genius to figure out how the 49ers are going to play the Jets. They're going to double-team WR Santonio Holmes the moment he walks into the stadium. He's coming off his best game as a Jet. In fact, he was targeted 14 times -- the most times QB Mark Sanchez has ever targeted a wide receiver in a game, per ESPN Stats. If you stop Holmes, you stop the Jets' passing attack. The expected return of TE Dustin Keller (hamstring) will help.
But the Jets need another option to step up. Struggling rookie Stephen Hill (hamstring) is out, so that shifts the burden to Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens. They have to beat the 49ers' aggressive press coverage. Interesting note on the 49ers: They're vulnerable in third-and-long situations, having allowed seven of 12 conversions on third-and-9 and higher. So that's something, right?
4. Better than The Gronk: In this part of the country, most folks consider the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski the best tight end in the league. Not Rex Ryan. He called Vernon Davis "the premier tight end." Davis is a freakishly gifted receiver who can run wide-receiver routes. Since 2009, he leads all tight ends with 32 receptions of 25-plus yards. This is where S LaRon Landry comes in. The Jets signed him to bring much-needed athleticism to safety, helping in tight end coverage. So far, Landry hasn't been tested -- targeted only six times with four receptions, according to Pro Football Focus. That's about to change.
5. A case of the runs: This is embarrassing for Ryan: The Jets are 28th in run defense, surrendering 149 yards per game. If that keeps up, his father, former defensive guru Buddy Ryan, might cut him out of his will. The Jets struggle against quick backs (see C.J. Spiller and Reggie Bush), runners who can exploit their lack of speed on the edges. They should be able to deal with Frank Gore, a between-the-tackles runner who excels in the 49ers' north-south scheme. Of course, Gore is damn good, and so is the 49ers' offensive line. The 49ers are 23-7 when Gore rushes for at least 100 yards.