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3 things to watch for as the Jets head west to face the Niners

It's Bryce Petty's team from here on in — we think...Getty Images

It took awhile to find a team on the Jets’ schedule that is as dysfunctional and troubled as they are, but Sunday’s tilt in San Francisco will feature a 49ers team that may have even more issues.

The Niners (1-11) have had issues from Day 1, on and off the field, so it should come as no shock that they’ll be among the handful of teams battling the Jets (3-9) for the top pick in next April’s draft.

New head coach Chip Kelly led his team to a win on opening night, and haven’t duplicated that since, losing 11-straight contests. They’ve flip-flopped between Blaine Gabbert and current starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick – who was dangerously close to losing his gig following last Sunday’s terrible rain-soaked performance in Chicago. San Francisco is among the league’s dregs in nearly every statistical category, but for the Jets, they’re in no position to take anyone lightly.

Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has been talking to his unit all week, noting that there’s plenty of talent on the Niners’ defensive side that cannot be overlooked.

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“I start with [saying], ‘let’s go by what’s on film. Let’s not go by stats every week.’ Because stats can get skewed by two games, [and] all of a sudden you’ve got two bad games and your stats are through the roof defensively, but you’re not really that bad,” Gailey assessed. “I try to deemphasize that from the start of the year. I’ve been around long enough to know that you don’t put a lot of stock in that [rankings].”

The Jets’ own defense has had issues as well. Prior to Monday night’s massacre, Gang Green went eight games without forcing a turnover. They finally got one against the Colts (a fumble recovery), but when a team yields 41 points in front of a national audience, there’s no real joy in forcing one mere turnover.

Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers is well aware of the lapses in execution and the fact that his defense has already allowed more points through 12 games (302) than all of last season (283). He said he needs more from his charges and hopes Sunday can provide the turnaround.

“We brainstorm all week and look at things. We ask ourselves the same question [on how to force more turnovers]. We stress it,” Rodgers said, noting the week’s practices against their own offense usually produces bushels of takeaways.

He just wants to see his defense take those performances from the facilities to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.

“We need to keep stressing it, [and] coaching it better, so it happens in actual games,” said Rodgers. “We get like five or six turnovers in practice. We just have to keep working so that it translates into the games.”

The Jets will need to refocus themselves, as head coach Todd Bowles has noted all week. The embattled coach said the loss to the Colts was more about lack of execution and “boneheaded mistakes” than guys not giving maximum effort.

He’s hoping they refocus and not take the abysmal Niners for granted.

“We only have three wins, so, we worry about ourselves. I think our team will be up for the game,” reasoned Bowles. “They were up [motivated] Monday Night, too … We just have to play smarter.”

Metro takes a look at other key storylines to follow in a battle of two teams that have struggled all season.

1. Ready for Petty

The second-year quarterback will get the start on Sunday – and remain the starter for the remainder of the season. Bowles noted the plan all along was to get Petty on the field, but only if the Jets were officially out of playoff contention.

“We knew if we were out of the running … I told the coaches that we would give him the last quarter of the season. Now, obviously we would have stuck with Ryan [Fitzpatrick] if we were [in the hunt], but now that we’re not in contention, we want to get him [Petty] some experience,” Bowles said.

The lack of experience may also help Petty as the Niners aren’t familiar with his work, noted head coach Chip Kelly.

“There’s a limited amount of throws. [Petty’s] only thrown it 59 times, compared to Fitzpatrick. Fitz is at 342 and Bryce is at 59. There’s not as much tape and you don’t have as much history with him obviously,” Kelly said. “There’s a short sample size of exactly how he’s fitting in to what Chan is trying to do with him. … We need to be prepared.”

2. Will the Jets bomb away?

Throwing a young quarterback into the mix can be daunting for not only the signal caller but the coaches as well. It’ll be interesting to see if Gailey turns Petty loose and let the kid push the ball down the field. The Niners have allowed nearly 300 passing yards per game over the last month, so there could be opportunities for Petty to go deep. The Monday night game featured a handful of deep-ball attempts by Petty, so Gailey will try and balance being aggressive and hiding Petty’s flaws.

“I don’t know any other way to plan a game other than to plan it to win,” Gailey said. “You try to balance it, but I’ve never had one where I’ve said, ‘We can’t do that. We can’t do this.’ There might be one thing, but there’s not going to be a bunch of things where we say no to.”

3. Running games will be the key

Most eyes will be on the starting quarterbacks, but the real key will be how well the respective running games keep the heat off the struggling signal callers. Matt Forte and Carlos Hyde will be the best friends of Petty and Kaepernick, respectively, and should have a greater impact on who wins this battle of last-place teams. Forte, especially, will be a huge reason for any Jets success. Prior to losing four straight, New York had won two in a row, primarily due to Forte’s legs. Against the Ravens’ top-rated defense, Forte racked up 100 rushing yards and a touchdown, and followed that up in the next game with 82 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Browns the. But He’s been bottled up lately with just 52 total yards against New England and then Indianapolis. Perhaps seeing San Fran’s league-worst rushing defense will rejuvenate Gang Green’s rushing attack.

Gang Green notes:

  • As of Thursday, hard-hitting safety Calvin Pryor was still in the concussion protocol.
  • Center Nick Mangold (ankle), who has been in and out of the lineup all season and who left Monday night’s game early, is in North Carolina to see a specialist, Dr. Robert Anderson. He was placed on the team's IR Thursday.
 
 
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