By Steve Lichtenstein
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I wrote during the week that I was afraid that the San Francisco 49ers would make the Jets look like a high school team. I was right, though I had the wrong root cause.
No, it’s not the Jets secondary wearing the dunce caps for Sunday’s 34-0 embarrassment. Instead, the Jets failed Football 101: Blocking and Tackling.
Watching this game was similar to the pounding I saw my son’s high school team take on Saturday. One team was clearly superior, opening holes for the running back and protecting the passer, while the other missed tackles in the open field and allowed the defense to nearly intercept the snap to its quarterback several times. The NFL may have talent equalization rules that make this type of mismatch rare, but teams that don’t execute the basic fundamentals will just as quickly become roadkill.
Now I know Mark Sanchez, like all quarterbacks who play abysmally for three straight weeks (with sub-50-percent accuracy in each one), will surely have to endure a long week of detention until the Jets play again next Monday night. He’s the face of the franchise and he makes the same mistakes he did in his rookie season. The media will be relentless in attempting to create a conflict to grab our attention.
Plus you have to factor in the Tebow presence, even though he has done little to prove he can be a difference maker (in a bit or irony, it was Tebow, with effective blitz pick-up, who saved Sanchez from a few extra vicious blows that could have leapfrogged Tebow into the starting role).
The Jets finally allowed Tebow to throw a pass yesterday. It was a nice short jump completion to Dedrick Epps, who will likely now lose his job replacing Tebow as the Jets’ third tight end after he was promptly crushed by 49er safety Dashon Goldson and fumbled. Still, the Jets Wildcat was grades below the one the 49ers ran with their backup quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who loosened up the Jets with an early incomplete long ball before using his speed to gash the Jets for 50 yards on five carries. So other than changing the scenery, I believe Tebow would have brought nothing to the show yesterday.
Besides, despite his depressing stats, is Sanchez really that much worse than the 49ers’ Alex Smith? I saw Smith missing plenty of wide-open receivers yesterday, looking like he was taking pity on a Jets’ secondary playing without future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis. Kyle Wilson, Revis’ stand-in, should be most grateful to Smith for saving him from several trips to the burn unit. Smith was a mere 12-for-21 against a carcass that was primed for a beating.
And this with virtually no pass rush to contend with except for a two-play anomaly in the second quarter that pushed kicker David Akers a little too far out of his range, keeping the Jets in the game for a half. Smith was barely touched the rest of the way.
Sanchez was given that kind of time in the opening game against Buffalo and we saw his ability to make some plays. Ever since, the Jets have struggled in pass protection and we have known for years what happens to Sanchez when he faces pressure.
The 49ers were the latest to feast on the Big Apple Turnover. All three sacks of Sanchez occurred on third downs with the Jets in 49ers territory, including a killer coverage sack late in the second quarter by Aldon Smith that caused a fumble with the Jets down, 7-0.
Still, it was only 10-0 early in the third quarter when right tackle Austin Howard whiffed on 49ers end Ray McDonald, who was able to get close enough to Sanchez to get his paw on an intended screen pass that deflected into the arms of teammate Patrick Willis. The Jets crossed midfield just once more (the drive that ended with the Santonio Holmes blooper-reel catch/injury/fumble/return touchdown) after that.
The 49ers didn’t even blitz very much. Why bother when you can disprove the simple math theory that five is enough to block four. Keeping an extra tight end in for added protection seemed to only make things worse for Sanchez. In addition to the three sacks that counted, Smith, whose fingerprints must be all over Sanchez’ uniform, and McDonald each had a sack negated by a defensive penalty.
The marks for the line’s run-blocking were no better. The Jets averaged 2.6 yards per rush, with the longest gallop a measly five-yard Shonn Greene thrust off tackle on the opening drive. Let’s face it: the Jets’ Ground and Pound is as much a misnomer as Operation Fast and Furious.
On the other side, the 49ers manhandled the Jets defensive front, humiliating Jets coach Rex Ryan by rushing for a staggering 245 yards at an average clip of 5.6 yards per attempt. The 49ers 16 rushing first downs helped them keep the ball for nearly 37 minutes.
In the Jets 3-4 alignment, the linebackers are primarily responsible for sealing the holes and taking down the ball-carriers. That’s why they’re taking up approximately 20% of the Jets’ salary cap. I hear a lot of ads these days about wasteful spending and I immediately think they’re talking about the Jets’ front office.
For our money we were treated to numerous missed tackles and blown assignments. Calvin Pace was exposed on the 49ers initial touchdown drive. It seemed like David Harris and Bart Scott were too slow in the one-on-one breakdowns when they weren’t plugging the wrong holes. Bryan Thomas, who was re-signed this week after being cut two days before, looked like he had been taking rejuvenation pills when he rushed with fury to get the first sack of Smith. But then he settled into the nonentity I’ve been used to seeing for so many years, with the edge repeatedly caved inside to allow the 49er backs to get into the defensive backfield.
Ryan has a lot of prep work to do this week, ranging from design to psychology. If Holmes is out, the Jets will have to play the unbeaten Texans minus their best offensive and defensive weapon. I’m sure Ryan is going to want to chuck the film of yesterday’s game into a garbage can. If not for some missed 49er opportunities and end-game mercy, the score could have been 50-something-to-0. I was spared the final eight minutes when my local FOX affiliate switched out to Atlanta/Carolina.
Ryan and Jet fans might be wondering how Smith would have fared if he was the one forced to make plays with no running game and a leaky offensive line. Would the secondary have held up? Only Smith didn’t have to because football, from Pop Warner to the NFL, is not Rocket Science. The team with superior blocking and tackling usually wins.
Who should shoulder the most blame for the Jets’ woes? Be heard in the comments below…