Last week's Niner defeat in Minnesota came as a shock to everyone.
Going into that game the 49ers were eight-point favorites, yet it just goes to show how the NFL is truly a week-to-week league. The competition is so strong, and the most unexpected teams always have a chance to knock off a powerhouse like the 49ers.
So, what exactly downed San Francisco in Week 3? It wasn't their run defense as they limited Adrian Peterson to only 86 yards on 25 carries. 3.4 yards per carry is less than impressive, however the same could be said about their pass rush, which was also less than impressive.
A defense that deploys pass-rushers like Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks is expected to harass the quarterback all-day long. Unfortunately, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder had other ideas as he kept the 49ers' pass rush at bay by escaping pressure with his legs. Ponder finished the game with seven carries for 33 yards and a touchdown.
Not to mention the fact he wasn't sacked once, and Vic Fangio's defense only pressured him three times. The defensive letdown was definitely a wake-up call that could have only benefited the team overall. It's better the letdown happened now instead of the first-round of the playoffs.
With the New York Jets on tap for Week 4, what will Coach Harbaugh's team need to do so the letdown doesn't happen again?
Let's take a look at what San Francisco's offensive and defensive game plans should look like for Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium.
When the 49ers Are on Offense
I mentioned that the 49er's pass-rush was disappointing, but lets not let Alex Smith and the offense off scot-free; they didn't look particularly hot, as well.
The one thing I didn't understand in Week 3 was why they didn't run the ball more. Frank Gore was eating up the Vikings on the ground, averaging 5.3 yards a carry on only 12 touches. I realize most of those carries came in the first half, and they had to throw more after being down 17-3 at half. But realistically, they didn't have to abandon the run.
A 17-3 hole is not that large when you have a strong defense and a strong running game that can bust off long runs like it's nobody's business. No matter how well Alex Smith played through the first two games, you saw what happens when you became a pass-first team with Smith under center.
Without a doubt the 49ers need to get back to their rock solid game plan of running the football to open up the passing game. Allow No. 11 to be that overachieving game manager and put the focus back on the backfield. Since Harbaugh arrived in town, San Francisco is 13-0 when they have more than 100-yards rushing as a team.
As for the Jets...
After watching the game tape on the Dolphins' run game, it was impressive to see the way their offensive line handled New York's defense. After Sunday's game, New York's poor performance dropped them to 28th against the run. (They are allowing 148.7 yards per game on the ground.)
On average teams are running the ball 32.3 times per game against Rex Ryan's defense.
Take a look at the play above, Miami is in 21 personnel out of the I-formation. Even though New York has eight men in the box, Miami QB Ryan Tannehill sticks with the outside B-gap run. And it works to perfection as Bush finds a huge hole in between left tackle Jake Long and left guard Richie Incognito.
Incognito does a great job recognizing the stunt at the snap of the ball. He immediately sees the nose tackle and defensive end crash down. If he does not recognize this right away there's a good chance the nose tackle gets by him for the easy stop.
Long's block is ultimately the deciding factor in just how much room Bush will have. Bush eventually picks up 16 yards because of the seal block that was put on the right outside linebacker. With the 49ers' offensive line being even better than Miami's, one should fully expect to see those same gaping holes on Sunday. In week's past, I've documented San Francisco's awesome use of trap and wham plays.
Given that these plays are staples of Coach Harbaugh's playbook, the 49ers need to get back to what they do best. Run the football and use multiple-back sets to wear down the defense. Brandon Jacobs will be back on Sunday, so it appears Gore, Kendall Hunter and Jacobs will be the three-headed monster this week.
When the 49ers Are on Defense
Defensively, the 49ers just need to continue doing what they did in Weeks 1 and 2.
It's simple, last week they ran into an above-average pass-blocking offensive line and didn't do anything to contain Ponder. Running a quarterback spy seems simple enough, yet Fangio's defense refused to do it until it was too late.
Mark Sanchez doesn't quite have the scrambling ability of Ponder, so it's safe to say the 49ers won't have to worry about him beating them with his legs.
However, the Jets have shown the ability to throw the ball through the first three weeks.
Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes have been Sanchez's leading wideouts and it appears as if the Jets will get back tight end Dustin Keller. Keller is a target hog when he's on the field, so their offense will have every possible weapon at their disposal.
Unfortunately for the Jets, their passing game has only found success when they've played subpar pass defenses. Both the Bills and Dolphins rank in the bottom half of the league against the pass. The 49ers are 13th against the pass, but let's not forget they squared off against two of the better passing offenses in Weeks 1 and 2.
To accommodate Sanchez, the Jets offense consists of a lot of short slants, drags and crossing patterns. Aside from a couple of deep passing plays, New York's lack of a deep threat really shows up against defenses with a better back end.
Look at the Steelers game, Week 2. No. 6 attempted 27 total passes with only five traveling beyond 20 yards. On the season, Sanchez is only 5-of-14 on downfield throws. Compare that to the likes of Cam Newton who is 9-of-16 on downfield throws, so you know New York will be playing to the strengths of its passing game.
Another thing the Jets do well is disguise their play-action passing game. Even though they lost this game against Pittsburgh, they still had some very impressive play calls early on in the first half. On this play, look how the Steelers have loaded the box with nine defenders.
So what does Sanchez do? He audibles to a pass play.
In anticipation of the blitz he holds in four additional blockers to setup the touchdown pass. He sees man-coverage, so he sends Holmes on a quick slant in hopes that the play-action fake will suck defenders up close to the line of scrimmage. And sure enough everyone is faked out as Holmes has a one-on-one matchup on the outside.
The quick slant is the perfect call as Holmes walks into the end zone untouched. Holmes generally wins man-to-man coverage, so it will be interesting to see how he does against San Francisco's Carlos Rogers.
The 49ers will need to keep everything in front of them and pressure Sanchez. When you get him out of his comfort zone, he crumbles fast and a meltdown follows. If the 49ers offense gets off to a fast start, look for the Jets to abandon the run, which would allow Aldon Smith and the rest of the Niner pass-rushers to tee off.
Even on the road, Harbaugh's group should have no problem getting back to its winning ways.
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