As ugly as the 49ers’ opening, 24-20 loss was, it was still a game in which they should have won a half-dozen times. Unlike the Arizona Cardinals, with an up-and-coming young superstar who is nigh impossible to tackle, the Jets are, well, a few weeks away from becoming favorites to secure the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, assuming they remain on their same path of disGaseful performances.
The rotation with Dee Ford out
Neck spasms suddenly have Dee Ford out for Sunday’s game. This comes a week after a sub-par performance from Ford, against a team which plays an uptempo, run and after-catch style that doesn’t suit his skillset. Against the Jets though, he would have had a perfect opportunity to run riot against Sam Darnold, who’s not a rookie, but plays like one.
With Ford out, the starting rotation doesn’t change. Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa are your five and nine-techniques, respectively, with D.J. Jones the nose tackle and Solomon Thomas the likely three-technique starter. Javon Kinlaw could also start at the three. The depth on the interior remains staunch, with Kevin Givens and Kinlaw filling it out at the nose-ish and three spots, respectively. Kerry Hyder will play on the edge as the rotational backup, but outside of him, there’s a bit of a depth issue.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has maintained that the team doesn’t want to move Thomas off the inside, but that might happen anyway. The saving grace here is Kentavius Street, who will be active and probably play frequently Sunday. He’s very much in the mold of Hyder, as a heavy, powerful guy with speed and a knack for a rip move. While both can play on the interior, and that’s probably where Street is best suited, he showed very well there in training camp. If you’re looking at the fourth edge presence, Street is probably it.
What happens if the run game runs into a wall
Raheem Mostert and the 49ers’ run game didn’t exactly have a dominant Week 1 performance against the clearly improved Arizona Cardinals and their 3-4 scheme. Their 123 rushing yards were not terrible, but did not resemble the sort of punch-you-in-the-face display Kyle Shanahan may have been hoping for. The Jets, meanwhile, are not an impressive pass coverage team. But they run that same 3-4 scheme under Gregg Williams, which often plays more as a five-man front.
The Jets limited the Buffalo Bills’ running backs to an astounding 41 total yards on 18 carries in their Week 1 loss. For you math whizzes out there, that’s 2.27 yards per carry. That’s not going to be repeated again, especially with Ben Garland likely back in the 49ers’ starting lineup, but the Jets’ front, highlighted by Folorunso Fatukasi and Steve McClendon (and yeah, Quinnen Williams too, but he clearly still has a long way to go), ate up the scripted runs. They conceded 57 rushing yards to Josh Allen, though much of that was off-script and they forced two fumbles.
Having seen Jimmy Garoppolo’s opening display of putridity, they’ll likely opt to sell out to stop the run again. What that means is the 49ers’ play-action looks could be in trouble if the run game isn’t established early. How Kyle Shanahan approaches the passing game, having seen a quarterback who looked jittery, and now without his best target in George Kittle, should be intriguing. Does he mix it up, opting for some simpler, guaranteed conversions like RPOs? Or does he stick to the tried and true zone run and play action combination which worked so well last year?
Aiyuk’s debut and Dante Pettis getting a perfect opportunity
Pierre Desir, the Jets’ starting corner, is a liability. That’s not a huge compliment to their other corners, Nate Hairston and Brian Poole, who at least is a physical player and solid tackler. Desir, though, cannot handle speed. John Brown of the Buffalo Bills and sometimes Stefon Diggs gave him a hellish time last week. The only player with similar straight-line speed is Brandon Aiyuk, but it seems like he’ll likely be on a limited snap count this week, given that he’s a rookie with limited preseason time and returning from a hamstring injury.
It presents a perfect opportunity for Dante Pettis, who, though only targeted once, fared far better than was the initial feeling on Sunday. There were at least three times when Pettis found himself wide open and Garoppolo did not look his way. Some of that is scheme and some of that is Garoppolo falling largely into two categories of failure last week: his standard lazer lock, in which stays with one target for far too long and fails to go through his progressions, or his over-correction, when, not trusting his interior offensive line or that his targets will come open, moves through his reads far too quickly.
Garoppolo will be better this week and both Aiyuk and Pettis will get on the board.
Sack town, population: Sam Darnold
Even without Dee Ford, I worry for Sam Darnold. He looks like a deer in headlights because while the Jets invested heavily in their offensive line, featuring none of the main starters from last season, the Jets are a dropback team. It’s outdated, and the one thing the 49ers wreak havoc on. He’s not particularly quick and due to his horrendous receiving corps, has to wait with the ball for long periods of time while hoping they come open.
Against the 49ers, even without Ford and Richard Sherman, I cannot fathom a less than four-sack day for San Francisco. Again, it’s an improved line, but it’s not an elite one, and last year it was proven time and time again that when a pocket quarterback has to wait on his reads too long, he gets sacked by this front. I expect at least one of Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa to get a sack, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Javon Kinlaw takes it to the weakest player on that front, the center, Connor McGovern.
The expectations at tight end
Don’t expect an all-Jordan Reed affair on Sunday, even without George Kittle, even though Reed is the best receiving option currently active on this 49ers roster. On Friday, Kyle Shanahan explained that Reed’s role is likely to increase, but it seems incrementally, and the role will increase for all three tight ends.
“I can give him a couple more opportunities but we still have our other two tight ends,” Shanahan said. “They’ll all get more playing time.”
Shanahan expressed growing confidence in Reed’s performances and health, but it sounded very much like he’ll still be on a pitch count, like the 10-snap one he was on last week. It’s understandable, given Reed’s horrible injury history, but at some point the 49ers may have to give him an extended run. For now, ti seems like he’ll be in the 15-20 snap range.
Expect to see Ross Dwelley nab the lion’s share of playing time, but with Charlie Woerner, who had just one offensive snap, on the failed goal-line run by Raheem Mostert (he and Daniel Brunskill both missed their blocks). seeing the field frequently too. Without Kittle, Woerner is the best blocker in that tight end room, and started to show an unpolished, but encouraging propensity to be used as a receiver late in training camp.
Score: 49ers win 34-13.
Story of the game: Jimmy Garoppolo rebounds with 275-plus yards, 3 TD and 1 INT. Dante Pettis has a highlight-reel catch, and Brandon Aiyuk has his first career TD. Both Jordan Reed and Kendrick Bourne have touchdowns, too, and Tevin Coleman runs one in. Sam Darnold gets sacked six times.