By Jason Fitzgerald
Maybe all the accolades being thrown the New York Jets last week were a bit premature. The team came out flat against the Denver Broncos and were outworked by their opponents who cruised to victory in sloppy weather conditions. The Jets took a small step backwards looking more like the team in weeks 2 and 3 of the NFL season rather than the team that had shown up in weeks 11 and 12.
Now the Jets look to bounce back as they head out to California for the 3rd time this season making their way to San Francisco for an important game in week 14. The Jets have been a horror show out west this year being pummeled by the San Diego Chargers and humiliated by the Oakland Raiders. San Francisco hasn’t fared much better this year only defeating the lowly Rams and Lions in their home stadium.
Jets Defense vs. 49’ers Offense
The 49ers remain in somewhat of an identity crisis on offense. Are they a running team? Are they a passing team? Who is the leader on the field and most importantly who is the leader on the sidelines? Head coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Mike Martz probably approach the game from different philosophical standpoints. Singletary hung Martz out to dry when they could not punch the ball in against the Cardinals and Martz is probably upset he did not get the nod to coach the team when the decision was made to fire Mike Nolan. The first move Singletary made was to bench Martz’ project JT O’Sullivan and put Shaun Hill, who carried the Niners to some late season victories in 2007, back in the starting role. Hill has been able to cut down on the turnovers which cost the team and will play a role of game manager for the club. The team has one playmaker in running back Frank Gore who is a factor in both the running and passing game, while WR Isaac Bruce is always capable of producing big plays in the Martz system and has to be licking his chops at the ability to play against the Jets this week. Neither however has proven to be a consistent option this year and both have been invisible at times. Bruce in particular has not played very well at home. Injuries have allowed WR Bryant Johnson back into the WR rotation while Arnaz Battle will split time with Jason Hill as the third option. TE Vernon Davis, a huge disappointment in the NFL, is at the least an athletic target with bad work habits and a lazy attitude. The Niners have the ability to move the ball from time to time, however, the team does not know how to perform in the red zone or under gametime pressure. The team just seems to wilt in these spots whether its costly interceptions, fumbles, 4th down blunders, or missed field goals. In 12 games this year the team has only produced 51 4th quarter points and at least half of them were in blowout losses.
If Martz has his way there is little secrecy in how the 49’ers will line up and attack the Jets. When teams spread the Jets out the Jets are at a serious disadvantage. At times the Jets have tried to make excuses for the situation with talk of prevent defenses, protecting big leads, etc…but the Broncos catastrophe brought the problems right to the front of the line once again. The first problems the Jets will face is in their coverage of Gore and Davis. While Davis may not get many looks he does get open for some big plays every now and then and the Jets linebackers, who are all below average in coverage will have a hard time keeping up with Davis. Similarly the Gore matchup presents all types of problems if he catches the ball in an open area with someone like Eric Barton matched up on him. The Jets will need a much better performance from their front three than they had last week against the undersized Broncos. When Kris Jenkins pulled a no show at the nose the Jets defense looked just like how it looked it 2006 and 2007, which was bad. The running back was allowed to burst through the line and the tackling was terrible. If David Harris was to return at LB he would help if the line plays poorly, but this is not a playoff caliber squad when the defensive line can not play well. Gore will be able to pound out some tough yards if that happens which will make this a very long game. The first key to the game is forcing the Niners into a passing mode. When Shaun Hill has to pass the ball over 20 times the mistakes will pile up rapidly.
At some point this season the Jets coaching staff will have to realize that their coverage scheme of rushing 3 and dropping 8 simply isn’t working. The team is nullifying the strengths of players like Dave Bowens and Calvin Pace by constantly forcing them into coverage where they are a liability rather than an asset. The team is going to have to take more risks and allow Darrelle Revis and Ty Law to play one on one from time to time and sell themselves out in hopes of hitting the quarterback. Shaun Hill certainly is not Jay Cutler, but if you allow him 15 seconds to throw the ball he will find a target this week. Between the offensive scheme and the talent on the offensive line the quarterback is a sitting target for a pass rush. The Jets rush has been non existent these last few weeks and it has to change quickly if the Jets want to win this game. The Jets tried Vernon Gholston last week to create some rush and should consider Marques Murrell and CJ Mosley getting some snaps over certain players on passing downs.
Jets Offense vs. 49’ers Defense
Other than last weeks shutdown of the Buffalo Bills the 49’ers defense has been mind numbingly bad this season. They have allowed at least 29 points in 8 of their 12 games this year and they often allow games to just get away from them in the 4th quarter. They seem like a team that once things start to go downhill they just simply allow the floodgates to open and allowing the game to get out of control. The 49’er 34 run defense has been very good this year. Justin Smith has been a great addition to cutting off the runs to his side of the field and their line does a good job of working the trenches. Their play allows stud LB Patrick Willis to make plays all over the field. Willis is arguably the best tackler in the NFL and looks to have an excellent chance of being the best linebacker in the NFL in a short period of time. The Lbs other than Willis all have their deficiencies. Manny Lawson is an athlete that has not really learned the position and Takeo Spikes is on the older side and a bit undersized for the defense. The passing defense has been an issue for San Francisco in 2008. High priced cornerback Nate Clements has not come close to living up to his contract and gives up way too many receptions and yards to be considered a number 1 corner. Walt Harris is no better alongside him. The team has no pass rush to help the secondary and they are giving up a big number of huge plays because of it.
After weeks of really excellent gameplay the Jets offense took a week off. Outside of Thomas Jones, who seems to realize that this could be his best chance to contribute to a Super Bowl, the team went through the motions last week. Their linemen were not getting to the next level. The receivers were getting no separation. The QB threw passes all over the field. Really this looked more like the team everyone complained about early in the season than the one that looked like one of the top offenses in the NFL, which is what the Jets seemingly had become. The Jets will show more of a commitment to the run this week in hopes of re-establishing their offensive line and their ability to control the clock. If the Jets can get the run going it opens all kinds of options for Brett Favre in the passing game and will keep the defense honest. The Jets should have a big advantage with Coles, Cotchery, and Keller in this game. Cotchery is as good a number 2 is in the NFL while Keller has basically become what the 49’ers thought they were getting in Vernon Davis. There is nobody on the team that can force them off their routes nor cover them if Favre gets any time. The one thing that has been lacking in the Jets offense is Favre’s ability to connect on a bomb and he will take a chance or two again this week and maybe he can finally get that pass working again. The two things the Jets offense must do are score at the end of the first half, something San Francisco is terrible at stopping, and control the 4th quarter to seal the game.
The 49ers special teams units are one of the better units in the NFL. Their kickers have big legs and the team does a good job in coverage of those kicks. If Allen Rossum is healthy enough to play he gives the team a dynamic kick and punt return man. If he can not go the return game will be a non factor for San Francisco.
Even the Jets specials did not do a great job last week. Leon Washington had one big return and seemingly a tough time judging what to do in the weather on a few others. Reggie Hodges was miserable with his punting and will look to prove that the weather was the main cause of his problems. Jay Feely continues his stretch of reliable play and the team should consider putting Mike Nugent on IR so they can carry an extra position player.
Singletary is coaching for a job next year. He has tried every trick in the book to motivate his team. He changed quarterbacks. He threw a player out of a game. He showed the team his bottom. Has it worked? Maybe. They are 2-3 with him as the coach, but he still can not keep his team from falling apart late in games and he has had some mishaps during the games which had been very bad, including one for the history books in Arizona.
For the first time this season Eric Mangini shot some of the blame for a loss onto his players and took some heat onto himself as well. It was a very different coach coming out of the Broncos game than we had seen before in defeat or close ugly wins. He immediately said they failed in every aspect of the game, including coaching. He followed it up by saying his players did a lousy job in practice all week and it would change this week. This is very different than the usual “we had a good week of work”, “the coaching percentages should have worked in our favor”, and “we executed everything the way we wanted to against a ‘great’ team” soundbite he usually gives. That is probably the kind of kick that the team needs after the no show last weekend and hopefully is showing the evolution of the head coach into something more than just another coach.
Is this a disaster if the Jets lose? No. The Jets fate was more or less predetermined when they beat the Titans that a win against Buffalo and Miami will likely seal the division for them. They were already losing any tiebreaker to almost anyone in the AFC and a loss here certainly does not hurt them in that regard. However, a loss gives the Jets zero margin for error and when you still have yet another trip out West in two weeks you want to have some margin to allow for a bad game.
New York needs to come out and show that same intensity level they showed on the road in Buffalo, New England, and Tennessee. The players need to treat this opponent as if first place in the AFC is on the line and not as ho hum game. The 49ers can’t match the Jets talent level on the field and if the Jets bring their A game it is near impossible for an inferior team to find a way to sneak into a win. The 47-3 bombing of the Rams shows what happens when the much more talented team comes out and plays their hearts out on Sunday.
However the Jets have had a tendency as a favorite to play down below their opponents level and this could be one of those games. When the more talented team brings their C game the inferior team has a chance to win as long as they bring a high level of intensity to the contest. The Jets were knocked off by Oakland in that same manner this year and nearly knocked off by Kansas City under similar circumstances. So which Jets show up this week? The Oakland/San Diego Jets or the New England/Tennessee Road Warriors? That likely determines how competitive the game is and whether or not it goes down deep into the 4th quarter. Jets come out flat to start the game, but find themselves in the second half to take advantaged of some 49’er mistakes to get the win and move to 9-4 on the season.
Jets 31 49’ers 23