After the 49ers lost last week in Minnesota, the team stayed on the East Coast in Youngstown, Ohio to practice and prepare for the Jets in week four. Sunday will mark the end of a 10-day road trip by San Francisco which hopefully finishes in a win. This will be the 49ers first time playing in New York since 2004 and will be their first game at MetLife Stadium. The 49ers are looking for momentum trying to avoid a two game losing streak to start the first four games of the season. The Jets want to show the NFL they are still contenders in the AFC East despite losing shutdown quarterback Darrelle Revis for the season. Here is a preview and five things to watch for in the contest between the 49ers and Jets.
Tim Tebow and the Wildcat
Before last Sunday against the Dolphins, Rex Ryan and Tony Soprano used Tebow on offense as much as Randy Moss has been a part of the 49ers offense. We knew it was going to happen at some point where Tebow was on the field for more than a few plays on offense and he took the field for a season-high 12 offensive plays on Sunday, only totaling two rushing yards. In the first two games he only appeared on 12 offensive plays. Middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman will be tasked with stopping Tebow if decides to run the football while on the field. One of them will likely shadow the quarterback when he is on the field.
Jets fans have a short leash with Mark Sanchez and are growing impatient with his play at quarterback, despite him having 710 passing yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Every time Sanchez throws an interception, the more Jets fans want to see Tebow. Can Tebow provide the same spark for the Jets he did for the Broncos last season? With Revis out for the season and the Jets needing a spark of their own, Ryan and Soprano will likely unleash Tebow against the 49ers.
San Francisco’s defense needs to be prepared not only for Tebow and the Wildcat but also WR Santonio Holmes, who leads the team with 16 receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown, and RB Shonn Greene who has rushed for 157 yards and one touchdown in three games. Even though Greene has below average numbers through three games, the Jets offense will not give up on the run. Holmes has been the number one target for Sanchez this season and he will test CB Carlos Rodgers all day.
Ricky Jean Francois vs. Nick Mangold
With nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga missing practice all week and listed as questionable for the game against the Jets, backup Ricky Jean Francois will make his third career start. Sopoaga sprained his ankle and knee in the loss to the Vikings causing him to leave the game. Where the 49ers defense will miss Sopoaga the most is his ability to gobbled up offensive linemen which allows the outside linebackers to rush the QB and the middle linebackers to make plays between the offensive tackles. Making the job difficult for Jean Francois will be Jets center Nick Mangold, a four-time Pro Bowl player and two-time All-Pro selection. The Jets will need to establish the run game early and the 49ers defense will likely see multiple rushes up the middle to test Jean Francois against Mangold.
Jean Francois started two games last season for Ray McDonald at defensive tackle and Sopoaga at nose tackle. He recorded seven tackles in the two starts. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will not change the defense just because Sopoaga is missing in the middle. Jean Francois will be expected to play at the same level as Sopoaga.
49ers Running Game
Frank Gore is still the heart and soul of the 49ers offense. Last week’s loss to the Vikings showed the 49ers need to establish a smash mouth running game first, and pass second. With the 49ers throwing on majority of plays last week, Gore was not able to develop a rhythm allowing him to be a lethal part of the offense. A power rushing attack is the 49ers way of running an offense and it was successful in the first two games of the season which were both wins.
The 49ers offense will test the Jets front-seven early in the game as the defense ranks 28th against the run and gives up an average of 148.7 rushing yards per game. San Francisco’s rushing attack gained 334 yards in the first two games, but only rushed for 89 yards last week.
Revis Island Under Water
There is no doubt the Jets losing Revis for the season is a huge blow, but it also presents an opportunity for the 49ers offense to exploit. Alex Smith will test CB Antonito Cromatri, who took over Revis as the top cornerback, and inexperienced CB Kyle Wilson. Receivers Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss will have the Jets secondary all over the field trying to stop the offense. After Revis suffered a concussion and left the game in the Jets 27-10 loss to the Steelers in week two, the defense gave up 265 passing yards.
Entering week four of the season Vernon Davis leads the 49ers with four receiving touchdowns and he presents big matchup problems for opposing defenses. The Jets will likely have safety Eric Smith covering Davis because he is too fast for a linebacker to cover him. The Jets have given up an average of 58.8 yards per game to tight ends this season which seventh most in the NFL. If you have Davis on your fantasy team you know how awesome he has played so far this season. Against the Jets weakened secondary Davis will have his best game of the season.