As the Jets prepare to face the 49ers Sunday, New York coach Rex Ryan knows what to expect.
The Jets (2-1) are prepared to see a heavy dose of Frank Gore.
No. 21 may play a big role, as might Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs, if he’s deemed healthy enough to play.
“The No. 1 priority when you play San Francisco is you better be able to stop the run,” Ryan told reporters this week. “I think that’s something where they do an absolutely tremendous job.”
And, it’s an area where the Jets – who’ve been solid against the run the past several years – have been vulnerable through three games in 2012.
The Jets rank 28th in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 148.7 yards per game on the ground. In the opening game of the season, the Jets gave up 195 rushing yards to the Buffalo Bills. Against the Dolphins, the Jets gave up 185 yards on the ground.
In particular, the Jets have had trouble against smaller, quick backs (C.J. Spiller of the Bills, Reggie Bush of the Dolphins), so Hunter could thrive.
The 49ers (2-1), meanwhile, have been a run-first team under coach Jim Harbaugh, but went away from that personality in a loss at Minnesota last week. Gore had just 12 carries against the Vikings. After practicing in Ohio this week to get ready for the game with the Jets at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, expect to see the 49ers get back to pounding the ball on the ground first to set a tempo, and then testing a Jets secondary that is without its best player, cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman, however, isn’t saying what his plans are. Every opponent is different, every defense presents certain opportunities, he says.
“We’re always going to do what we think is best to win the game,” Roman told the San Francisco Chronicle. “And every game is going to play out differently. In that particular game (Gore) got the amount of touches he got and this game could be completely different. Or not. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s game to game.”
Jacobs, out since the exhibition season, returned to the 49ers’ practices this week and could play, as could kick returner/wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr, who hasn’t played in the regular season yet because of an ankle injury. Linebacker Patrick Willis, who left the Vikings game late with an injury, is back on the field and should play, but nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga may not play because of a knee injury.
On offense, the Jets have yet to click so far this season. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has been inconsistent (50-of-99, 710 yards, five TDs, three interceptions) and No. 1 running back Shonn Greene has yet to break out, averaging just 2.8 yards on 57 carries. Santonio Holmes has been Sanchez’s top target, with 16 catches.
It’s possible that if Sanchez gets off to a rough start against the 49ers defense, the Jets could turn to backup quarterback Tim Tebow – or mix Tebow into the offensive mix in the wildcat formation. To date, Tebow has yet to throw a pass, but has carried the ball seven times for 38 yards.
“I’ve seen him (Tebow) have some pretty good runs thus far, with them running it as little as they have,” said the 49ers’ Willis of the Jets’ wildcat package. “It’s most definitely going to be something that we have to be able to stop.”
Ryan knows one thing: the 49ers are a solid team with a great defense that makes few mistakes. Plus, they’ll be hungry coming off their first loss. His Jets must play a very good game in all categories Sunday.
“Going against San Francisco, you almost have to be perfect,” Ryan told The Associated Press this week. “Going against this kind of team, it has to be precise.”
Oddsmakers have made the 49ers a 4½-point favorite.