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Previewing the Jets’ Opposition: San Francisco 49ers

In 2019, the 49ers went 13-3 with their only three losses all coming on the last play of the game. One of those losses came in a 1:00 p.m. ET kickoff against the Ravens, which is always a challenge for the west coast teams, but they’ll still be favored against the Jets.

San Francisco eventually went to the Super Bowl but lost to the Chiefs despite taking a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter. They didn’t stay pat though, making a series of offseason trades. In week one, the new-look Niners lost 24-20 to the Cardinals, with the winning score coming with five minutes to go this time.

Quarterbacks

Jimmy Garoppolo is currently in the third year of a five-year contract worth up to $137 million, but last season was actually the first time he’s started more than five games. In fact, he has the exact same number of starts in his career as Sam Darnold (27) who is only in his third season.

In 2019, Garoppolo started all 16 and finished up just 22 yards short of 4,000 as he posted a quarterback rating of over 100. The record will show that he led them to the Super Bowl, although the 49ers leaned heavily on the running game and his output and efficacy reduced significantly during the postseason.

In last week’s season opener, Garoppolo again put up solid numbers and then drove the 49ers into the red zone with under a minute to go and a chance to win. However, his fourth down pass fell incomplete and Arizona held on to win.

With Garoppolo injured in 2018, backups CJ Beathard and Nick Mullens started 13 games between them. Mullens got the nod as the number two last week.

Offensive Line

The 49ers had a solid offensive line last year, but they’ve changed things up a bit since the end of last season with the biggest move being their trade for pro bowler Trent Williams during the offseason to take over from the retiring Joe Staley at left tackle.

Having missed all of last year while feuding with Washington’s medical staff and front office, Williams served notice that he’s not lost a step with a punishing pancake block that went viral last week.

The two returning starters from the start of last season are two former first round picks; left guard Laken Tomlinson and right tackle Mike McGlinchy. Tomlinson is a steady presence whose three year, $18 million contract in 2018 was an obvious bargain. McGlinchy is solid, although he did give up six sacks and had seven penalties last year.

At center, Ben Garland also returns after taking over the starting role in the middle of last season. However, he had an ankle issue last week so the 49ers activated Hroniss Grasu from the practice squad and he played instead.

At right guard, Daniel Brunskill – a utility player who started seven games last season – is a full time starter for the first time, although he is listed as a joint starter with former Jet Tom Compton on the team’s official website.

Other than Compton, the 49ers have Justin Skule – who started eight games at tackle last year – and fifth round rookie Colton McKivitz on the bench.

Running Backs

Raheem Mostert didn’t start a single game in 2019, but established himself as the 49ers’ top running back over the course of the season by leading the team with 10 touchdowns and a 5.6 yards per carry average. He then exploded for a 220 yard, four touchdown performance against Green Bay in the playoffs and is now starting after an offseason contract dispute.

While he didn’t have much success as a runner in week one, Mostert caught a 76-yard touchdown pass and looks set to retain the top role. However, last year’s number one, Tevin Coleman, was on a reduced workload because of the air quality in San Francisco and should be fresh heading into this game.

After a series on injuries, Jerrick McKinnon made his return last week and also caught a touchdown pass off the bench.

Pro bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk and youngster Jeff Wilson round out the rotation.

Pass catchers

The 49ers have had even more disruption at the wide receiver position than the Jets this offseason. Emmanuel Sanders and Marquise Goodwin are gone, Deebo Samuel just joined four other receivers on injured reserve and one other opted out.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Garoppolo had most of his success passing to backs and tight ends on Sunday. In fact, he was just 4-for-11 for 41 yards when throwing to his wide receivers.

Kendrick Bourne and slot receiver Trent Taylor got most of the targets with Dante Pettis – currently listed as a starter – being held without a catch. The trio combined for 95 catches when Garropolo was injured in 2018, but only combined for 41 catches last season, with Bourne accounting for 30 of those.

First round rookie Brandon Aiyuk was inactive last week and the 49ers just signed veteran Mohamed Sanu, so we may see a different look from this rotation on Sunday.

At tight end, superstar George Kittle has already been ruled out which damages both the passing game and the running game.

The 49ers brought in veteran Jordan Reed to compliment Kittle in two-tight end sets but they’ll now rely on him to start on Sunday. The former pro bowler missed all of last year with concussion symptoms and had just 12 yards on two catches in his return to action.

Reserve Ross Dwelley caught 15 passes last year, while rookie Charlie Woerner is a blocking specialist who can fill in for Kittle on running downs.

Defensive Line

Nick Bosa is the 49ers big defensive star, leading the team in quarterback hits last season and racking up nine sacks plus another four in the postseason. George Fant actually handled Bosa quite well in their matchup last season, but Bosa usually lines up on the right, so he’ll go up against rookie Mekhi Becton on Sunday.

The other starter, Arik Armstead, actually led the 49ers in sacks during the regular season with 10 and Dee Ford, who had 13 sacks in 2018, provides good depth behind him. Ford is listed as questionable with a neck injury though.

On the inside, the 49ers traded away all pro DeForest Buckner and used the first round pick to bring in another defensive tackle in Javon Kinlaw. For now, though, DJ Jones and Solomon Thomas are listed as the starters. The 25-year old Thomas has been a disappointment since being drafted with the third pick in 2017.

Kevin Givens, Kentavius Street and former Jets cast-off Kerry Hyder provide depth on the line with Ronald Blair starting off the year on the PUP list.

Linebackers

The 49ers’ linebacker group is led by Fred Warner, who racked up 118 tackles to lead them in 2019. He’s joined by Kwon Alexander who missed half of last season on injured reserve but returned for the postseason.

Dre Greenlaw is also listed as a starter but he comes out of the game in nickel situations.

Azeez Al-Shaair and Mark Nzeocha didn’t play much off the bench last year and the other backup Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles was inactive in week one.

Defensive Backs

The 49ers also have issues at cornerback where Richard Sherman just went onto injured reserve and Jason Verrett has been ruled out of Sunday’s game.

It looks like they’ll go with Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon as the starters, although Witherspoon also missed some practice time this week. Moseley had 15 tackles in week one, which is rarely a good sign for a cornerback, while Witherspoon only played four snaps.

The nickel back is K’Waun Williams, who will match up with Braxton Berrios in the slot. Williams had four forced fumbles to lead the team last year and was the only player other than Sherman to intercept multiple passes.

For depth, the 49ers promoted Dontae Johnson from their practice squad and poached Ken Webster from Miami’s.

At safety, the 49ers’ starters are Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, who had a key interception last week. Ward, a converted cornerback, moved to safety in 2018. Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris provide depth off the bench.

Special Teams

The 49ers bring back veteran kicker Robbie Gould and punter Mitch Wishnowsky for 2020. Gould only missed three field goals in his first two seasons with the 49ers, but missed eight last season as his accuracy dropped below 75 percent for the first time in his career. Wishnowsky had a punt blocked on Sunday.

The return game has plenty of options despite the fact that Richie James is on injured reserve. McKinnon returned kicks and Taylor returned punts last week, but Mostert and Pettis are also options.

Mostert was a key contributor on special teams last year, but now he’s a starter that has taken him out of that role. The same can probably be said for Moseley. Nzeocha and Moore will be among their main contributors in kick coverage.

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