Jets cornerback Dwight Lowery deflected a 4th-and-10 pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to wide receiver Joey Galloway. Rex Ryan celebrated with one of his patented fist pumps as the Jets took control of the ball and kneeled their way to a 16-9 win over their division rivals.
That was how it ended the last time the New York Jets were this big of an underdog at home. Way back in 2009, they were 3.5-point underdogs in Rex Ryan's first home game as head coach.
This coming Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers are giving up four points to the Jets at MetLife Stadium for the largest home spread ever under Rex Ryan.
None of this is to say that a win is guaranteed—quite the contrary—but there's certainly a game plan for success. Luckily for the Jets, they don't have to look back further than a week to find out what that game plan is.
The Minnesota Vikings just pulled off an upset of their own against these very same 49ers just this past Sunday. The Jets are a similar style football team to the Vikings in some ways, and they should definitely be looking back at what the Vikings did that helped them come away with a convincing 24-13 win over what many considered to be the best team in the league.
The Vikings could stand not to put the weight of the world on quarterback Christian Ponder's shoulders because they have Adrian Peterson, but the 49ers were successful against the run, effectively putting the game in Ponder's hands. He responded admirably.
In fact, Bleacher Report NFC West lead writer Tyson Langland went as far as to say stopping the run was the only thing the 49ers did well.
The only thing San Francisco's defense did well was stop the run. Going into this game, the general consensus was that if you stopped the run, the rest would take care of itself. I'm not sure anyone predicted that Vikings' quick passing game would be so effective against what had been the most dominant defense in the NFL.
That is also the consensus about the Jets, a team that is heavily grounded in the ground-and-pound mentality.
The Jets haven't been incredibly effective running the ball this year, but relative to the opponents they have faced, it hasn't actually been all that bad. In fact, the Bills' awful performance against the Chiefs only came after a first half where they completely shut them down on the ground, and the Steelers' lone stinker came against a Raiders offense which has been one of the league's best at running the ball.
But it wasn't about how effective Peterson was so much as how often they ran him at the 49ers' defense and how effective it was in wearing them down.
The running game also opened up play action, which helped in the short passing game by freezing linebackers at the second level; nine of Ponder's 21 completions went to tight ends or running backs. The mentality of running the ball constantly wore down those linebackers and safeties, making it more difficult for them to keep up with their assignments in coverage.
Don't Pass on the Passing Game
The 49ers field one of the league's best pass defenses, but they have not played consistently over the first three weeks of the season.
The good news for Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is that he doesn't have to be elite against the 49ers, and the Vikings proved it. Their game plan was based on a steady dose of running back Adrian Peterson combined with a passing game centered around short and intermediate passes.
Bleacher Report NFC North lead writer Andrew Garda pointed out after the Vikings win, "It's not the stats that were impressive for Ponder (because they weren't); it was the poise he showed under pressure and the command he had of the offense."
Ponder's stats may not have been that impressive, but they were certainly better than Sanchez's have been thus far.
We saw Sanchez show a great deal of poise under a great deal of pressure on Sunday against the Dolphins; he had performed poorly up until the fourth quarter and overtime, but he came through in the clutch.
He did it thanks, in great deal, to an offensive line that gave him a comfortable pocket when he needed it the most.
Time and time again, in key moments, Sanchez had all the time he needed to read the defense and find the open man.
After getting such good pass protection against the Dolphins, a strong and underrated unit which has been one of the league's best against the run and has rushed the passer fairly well despite logging just three sacks, don't underestimate the ability of the Jets' offensive line to get that kind of push against the 49ers' front seven.
That pocket will be especially important this week, with an aggressive 49ers defense likely to bring the heat on Sanchez.
But in laying out the blueprint on how the Vikings attacked San Francisco's defense, Garda gets to the strategic meat of the matter, and points out it was all about the short passing game.
The Vikings didn't throw a completed pass of more than 24 yards. Ponder threw a few balls long, but nothing huge and nothing that was caught. Most passes were of the five- to 10-yard variety, and some were in the flat or even screens behind the line.
It's been said before, but the way you can overcome a fierce pass rush is with short, quick passes. There were a lot of very quick releases and passes by Ponder, especially early in the game. They didn't all work...but they put the defense on notice that they were not easily getting to Ponder.
The Jets could stand to scale it back a bit on the deep throws this week; Sanchez has gone deep on 22.2 percent of his passes this year, according to Advanced NFL Stats, but Ponder went deep just 17.1 percent of the time against the 49ers.
This early play in the first quarter is a great example of how the Jets can neutralize the pass rush with short throws.
Ponder's ball-fake to Adrian Peterson is enough to freeze the linebackers, and Percy Harvin coming in motion before the snap adds another element of confusion to the 49ers' defense.
The misdirection leaves a gaping hole on the left side of the 49ers' defense, with the front seven focused fully on Ponder. The Jets should try to take advantage of an aggressive 49ers defense with misdirection plays.
The Jets need to draw in high-percentage throws for Sanchez, just as the Vikings did for Ponder. Plays like that will help, but they must also be effective. Last week against the Dolphins, Sanchez completed just 52.7 percent of his throws between 0 and 20 yards from the line of scrimmage (according to Pro Football Focus), while Ponder completed 62.5 percent of his throws of that variety.
Put the Game in Alex Smith's Hands
Just as the 49ers will try to put the game in Sanchez's hands, the Jets should try to do the same to 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith has been efficient, but not deadly, through three games. His seven yards per pass attempt currently ranks 18th in the NFL.
Compare that to the 49ers' running game, which ranks third in the league with 5.4 yards per rush attempt, and it's clear that the Jets would like to dictate the 49ers into a one-dimensional attack based on the passing game.
One of the best ways to shut down the running game? Jump out to an early lead. That way, even if the running game is effective, it's ultimately meaningless, as the Jets proved in their Week 1 win over the Buffalo Bills (early 21-0 lead, eventually 41-7 lead, in which the Jets gave up 195 yards rushing and 7.5 YPA).
Langland breaks it down for us.
Trailing 17-3 at halftime, the 49ers were never able to establish the run. Frank Goredid well with his limited touches, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, but a 38/20 pass-to-run ratio is not the style of game Jim Harbaugh likes to call.
There are two questions there, however:
- Can the Jets do enough to stop the 49ers' running game early on to build that early lead?
- Once the Jets put the ball in Smith's hands, can they scheme their way to defensive success in the passing game without their star cornerback, Darrelle Revis?
For the first question, the statistical clear-cut answer is yes.
The Jets shut down the Bills' running game for the most part, despite letting up on one 56-yard scamper by C.J. Spiller. Besides that one carry, the Jets' run defense has been lights out in the first half of games, letting up 147 yards total on the ground and just 3.5 YPA on average. If the Jets are able to stifle one of the most effective rushing attacks in the league early on, they must be able to capitalize by scoring points to effectively eliminate the running game as a whole.
For the second question, we'll turn to ESPN's Rich Cimini, who highlights the ripple effect of Revis Island:
I've got some Revis-impact stats for you, courtesy of ESPN Stats: Last 2 yrs with Revis, #Jets D has 15 TD/23 INT. Without him, 5 TD/0 INT.— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 24, 2012
This season: With Revis (88 snaps)-- 54 pct comp rate, 5.4 YPA, 1 TD, 4 INT. Without Revis (111) -- 62 pct, 7.6 YPA, 4 TD, 0 INT. #Jets— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 24, 2012
Luckily for the Jets, their biggest problem may not be any of the receivers on the outside; it will probably be the man in the middle, tight end Vernon Davis, who Rex Ryan already said was the best tight end in the league, according to the Star-Ledger.
The Jets have not had much luck stopping tight ends, though, having given up completions on 14 of 20 passes, to go along with two touchdowns.
The Vikings took Davis away by putting a cornerback on him at times when he lined up wide, while doubling him with a linebacker and a safety for the most part when he lined up inside.
They were able to hold him to just three receptions with this method.
Smith might have liked to go to Davis on this 3rd-and-6 play, with him rolling to his right and making a hi-lo read on the sideline.
Unfortunately for him, the Vikings scouted it perfectly and had both Davis and Randy Moss effectively covered. Smith is hit for a six-yard sack and the 49ers are forced to punt.
This is just one example of how the Vikings were able to take Davis away, but their focus was clearly on him in the passing game throughout the game. In the end, they gave up five receptions and a touchdown, but their ability to mitigate his effectiveness early (two receptions in the first half) helped them jump out to an early lead.
The Jets will need to buckle down on Davis, or it could be a long day.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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