Gameday Preview: Jets @ 49ers
An old nemesis visits Candlestick Park Sunday, this time dressed in a New York Jets uniform. Brett Favre has had a near mastery over the 49ers, going 11-1 against San Francisco over his career. In fact, his only loss in San Francisco came when Terrell Owens hauled in a last-second touchdown catch from Steve Young to defeat Favre’s Packers in the playoffs in 1999. The 49ers, of course, are on their third different coach since that game and they don’t have a single player who was on the roster for that game.
The interim coach, Mike Singletary, is making a good case that he should be permanent. The team had an inspirational win over the Bills in soggy and cold Buffalo Sunday. To a person, players cited the coaching staff when asked about the win. Singletary probably needs at least two more victories for a solid claim on the job in 2009, and getting one against a good Jets team would be a big step in that direction.
Of all the quarterbacks on the roster — Shaun Hill, Alex Smith, J.T. Oï¿½Sullivan and Jamie Martin — Hill is the only guaranteed to be there next season. What Hill still must prove, however, is that he deserves a legitimate shot at starting job in 2009. He put together a quietly efficient performance in Buffalo. He needs another mistake-free game against the Jets.
Jets Keys For Success
1. Better weather conditions for Favre. Brett Favre struggled in the cold rain against Denver, and admitted afterward that he doesn’t like to play in such conditions, and even would prefer snow over rain. Well, the long-range forecast is for dry weather and temperatures in the low 60s Sunday.
2. More consistency in the running game. Yes, Thomas Jones rushed for 138 yards against Denver, but all but 50 of that came on his two TD runs. The Jets need to be able to run the ball more effectively for more plays to help keep the pressure off Favre.
3. Match the intensity of the 49ers. Although all of the players denied it after the Denver loss, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t at least somewhat of a letdown after road wins over New England and Tennessee. And although the 49ers are out of the playoff picture, they are playing hard for fiery interim coach Mike Singletary.
49ers Keys For Success
1. Tight-end talent. Over the past four games, Vernon Davis has had seven passes thrown in his direction. Davis certainly doesn’t have the best hands on the team and he has a penchant for drawing unnecessary penalties. But he poses real problems for defenses. The No. 6 pick in the 2006 draft has been underutilized in Mike Martz’s offense.
2. Nothing deep. After being scorched by Terrell Owens and the Cowboys in Week 12, the 49ers kept Lee Evans and the Bills receivers in front of them in Week 13. The result: the 49ers’ secondary gave up plenty of yardage but allowed only one big pass play and no touchdowns.
3. Run behind Rachal. It’s starting to become evident why the 49ers used a second-round draft pick on Chilo Rachal. The big right guard has looked good in the last two days and seems to be particularly adept at pulling and hitting a moving target. He and running back Frank Gore need to get a feel for one another, but once they do it should be an effective tandem.
The Bottom Line
The 49ers have the misfortune of playing a Jets team that is coming off an embarrassing home loss to the Broncos on Sunday. Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler scorched the Jets defense — 357 yards — and that has to seem tempting to Mike Martz who called a restrained, for him, game against the Bills. Look for the Jets and their fourth-ranked run defense to load the box on Sunday and for Martz to take chances over the top to Isaac Bruce against a pass defense that ranks 30th. The 49ers will get their chances, but it’s hard to see them keeping pace with a Favre-led Jets offense that leads the AFC in points scored.
Scoring prediction: Jets 33 – 49ers 20
When the 49ers have the ball
RUNNING GAME: Few teams have as great a discrepancy in their run and pass defense as the Jets, who rank fourth in the league against the run and 30th versus the pass. The key for the 49ers is controlling massive nose tackle Kris Jenkins. The Broncos were able to do so on Sunday using Casey Wiegmann, who gave up about 75 pounds to Jenkins. The 49ers will try to do the same with their best lineman, center Eric Heitmann, who will get assists from guards Chilo Rachal and David Baas. Another key is not giving up on the run too soon. Against the Bills Sunday, the 49ers had only moderate success on the ground, but they still handed to Frank Gore 24 times. It was only the third time this season he has had 20 or more carries. Keeping the ball out of Brett Favre’s hands will be paramount.
PASSING GAME: The Jets could see a couple of key pass defenders return this week in inside linebacker David Harris and safety Eric Smith. Smith is better in coverage than his replacement, Abram Elam, and would be an asset when the 49ers use multiple receivers. Defenses have been ganging up on Gore in recent weeks, and Mike Martz hasn’t hesitated to throw the ball deep, mostly to receiver Isaac Bruce. Harris, meanwhile, might be assigned to cover Vernon Davis, who made the most of his few opportunities in the month of November. He caught his only two touchdown passes of the season.
THE BLITZ: One of the reasons why Davis has been used so seldom in the passing game is because he stays behind to block, often picking up defensive ends. The 49ers’ pass protection has improved dramatically since Shaun Hill took over at quarterback. That’s partly due to better play from the offensive line and partly because Hill recognizes pressure better than predecessor J.T. O’Sullivan and is getting rid of the ball more quickly. The Jets don’t blitz often, but theyï¿½ll send free safety Kerry Rhodes and linebacker David Bowens on occasion.
IN THE RED ZONE: Martz has done a good job of mixing up his red-zone calls. Early in the season, he seemed to rely on runs by Gore, but lately — with teams stacking the line of scrimmage – he’s favored the pass. Another advantage is that the 49ers don’t have a favorite player in the red zone. Receivers Bruce and Bryant Johnson have been targeted at times, and another receiver, Arnaz Battle, likely will return from a foot injury this week. Davis would seem to be an excellent red-zone weapon because he is so hard to jam at the line of scrimmage. But the 49ers typically throw deep passes, not short ones, in his direction.
When the Jets have the ball
RUNNING GAME: The Jets got two fairly long TD runs by Thomas Jones last week, yet for some reason, went away from the run in two-down territory at the Denver 46 last week, trying to pass twice unsuccessfully. Look for them to not make the same mistake against the 49ers, who surrendered 134 yards on 16 carries to Buffalo’s Marshawn Lynch on Sunday. San Francisco’s defense is centered around MLB Patrick Willis, who has the ability to pursue sideline to sideline, but a somewhat shaky defensive line hasn’t been able to provide Willis enough protection from blockers.
PASSING GAME: San Francisco’s secondary is vulnerable to the deep ball, even against its best cover corner, Nate Clements. However, the question is whether Brett Favre can get the ball deep, or whether his receivers can get any separation. None of the Jets wideouts is particularly speedy, and David Clowney, who could provide that element, has yet to suit up for a game. So the Jets’ passing game has been mostly of the short-to-intermediate variety lately, especially with rookie TE Dustin Keller over the middle, working the seams in the defense. At least Favre won’t have any weather problems this week. He admitted it was difficult playing in a cold rain versus Denver.
THE BLITZ:The Jets recently have been able to foil opposing blitzes by utilizing short, three-step dropbacks by Brett Favre, and the 49ers don’t blitz very often anyway, preferring to guard against allowing the big play. However, if it appears Favre is unable to beat the 49ers deep, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky might be tempted to bring more pressure. Strong safety Michael Lewis (two sacks) and strong-side linebacker Manny Lawson (three sacks) would be the most likely candidates to blitz if the 49ers choose this course of action, but the Jets have been good at picking up blitzes.
IN THE RED ZONE: The Jets have plenty of options inside the 20-yard-line, as opposed to last season, when a fade to Laveranues Coles was the overriding choice, so much so that teams were doubling him almost every time the Jets got inside the 10. But Coles still is key in this area, and could again be Sunday because San Francisco has been somewhat vulnerable to quick slants in this area. Coles, a ninth-year veteran, doesn’t have separation speed but is adept at running terrific routes in tight quarters, and Favre still can zing it into a tight space from short range when he has to.
Source: Sporting News, Matthew Barrows & J.P. Pelzman