Behind Enemy Lines: 49ers/Jets, Part II

NinersDigest's Craig Massei and the GreenandWhiteReport's Rick Laughland go Behind Enemy Lines to break down Sunday's game between the 49ers and New York Jets. What is Tim Tebow's future with the Jets? Has Mark Sanchez reached a plateau or he is truly New York's franchise quarterback? How will Gang Green adjust to life without cornerback Darrelle Revis? These Q&As and more inside.

Craig Massei, publisher, Everybody wants to know what's going on with Tim Tebow. Tell us what Tebow-mania is like, New York style. What kind of impact has his presence had on the team? Where is he fitting in, and what kind of contribution is making on the field? What do you see his future looking like with the Jets?

Rick Laughland, managing editor, Tebow-mania has taken on a life of its own in the media capital of the world. While the New York media has referred to Ryan Rex and the Jets as a circus-type operation, there is a fascination and obsession with Tebow's every move throughout the entire country. While I think the Jets have vastly underutilized Tebow throughout the course of their first three games, his leadership, guidance and optimism have truly made New York's chemistry problems a thing of the past. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is still trying to strike a balance offensively, with Tebow's snap count seemingly changing week to week depending on Gang Green's upcoming opponent. Facing a stout 49ers run defense this Sunday, I'd imagine Tebow's effectiveness out of the Wildcat to be relatively limited. The coaching staff is reluctant to let the former Heisman Trophy winner attempt a pass out of the pocket, which is something I finally expect to see on Sunday against San Francisco's dominating rush defense. In spite of being used sparingly on offense, Tebow has been nothing but upbeat and positive throughout the whole process, setting a shining example for the younger players and staying ready for when his number is called. His charisma and positive outlook have been somewhat of a godsend (no pun intended) for a squad mired in controversy and inner turmoil during the 2011 campaign. As for his future with the club, I think Gang Green is still trying to find an offensive formula to make Tebow an impact player without hindering the development of starter Mark Sanchez. Tebow can carve out his niche with this team as a gadget player and Wildcat quarterback, but his ultimate aspirations are to become a starting NFL signal-caller. With critics casting doubt on his ability as a pocket passer, Tebow could very well be in an ideal scenario in New York, that is if the coaching staff expands his playing time and entrusts him to attempt some passes throughout the season.

Craig Massei: Was it pretty clear-cut that Mark Sanchez kept his job this summer over Tebow? How close was that competition, and what would have to happen for Tebow to overtake Sanchez? We liked what Sanchez did in leading the Jets during his first few NFL seasons, but he seems to have reached something of a plateau in his career. Or has he? In your view, how has Sanchez progressed as a quarterback? Do the Jets still view him as a franchise quarterback?

Rick Laughland: The "quarterback controversy" in New York was contrived largely by the national media to create controversy and juicy headlines during preseason, or as our team at Green and White Report referred to it as ‘silly season.' The reality of the situation is, the starting quarterback job is Sanchez's to lose and at no point during training camp was he in imminent danger of being relegated to backup duties. While there's truth to the fact that Sanchez may have reached a plateau, the poor performance of his offensive line, an oblivious former offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer and disgruntled receivers all contributed to a less than stellar 2011 season. In my book, Sanchez's progress should be reevaluated during the team's Week 9 bye. With the loss of Revis, Sanchez will need to step up and be more than an adept game manager, but a consistent performer that can help the Jets win games. During his first two years, the former USC standout rode on the coattails of a powerful defense, potent running game and electric special teams play to reach consecutive AFC championship games. Sanchez did make clutch plays in the fourth quarter of several crucial regular-season games and excelled during the playoffs with a 4-2 career mark in the postseason, but rarely has he taken the bull by the horns and led the Jets to a wire-to-wire victory. This year is truly sink-or-swim time for Sanchez in New York because his play will have to justify New York trading up for the No. 5 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft just to get him. Sanchez is at a crossroads in his career, as fans will not wait another couple years for him to evolve into the quarterback they hope he can be. The Jets are a win-now team and any way you slice it, it's put-up or shut-up time for Sanchez in the Big Apple.

Craig Massei: Rex Ryan always has been known for his bluster, but it seems like there's a pretty good coach somewhere in there too. Is that an accurate perception? How good of a coach is Ryan, and is the team and Jets management still solidly behind him, or is that starting to waver at all? Is Ryan beginning to wear out his welcome, or is he still The Man in New York?

Tebow-mania sweeping the nation

Rick Laughland: While Rex Ryan's boastfulness may rub certain people the wrong way, his players and coaching staff appreciate the confidence he expresses outwardly in the media. Ryan is never afraid to speak his mind, which at times has been his greatest trait, while others may argue his greatest downfall. During his first two years at the helm, Ryan tried to eradicate the losing culture that had developed with the Jets for several years running and his braggadocios style was embraced by the fan base and his players. Ryan was unable to deliver on his Super Bowl guarantees, but in spite of falling short of his own lofty expectations, New York enjoyed two incredible playoff runs, falling 30 minutes short of playing for the NFL's ultimate prize in 2009 and 2010. Last season, New York was shaken to the core as the foundation of its team started to crumble and Ryan lost the pulse of his players. With last year's collapse a distant memory, Ryan has refocused on promoting team camaraderie and chemistry. The Jets head man is an expert motivator who can get his players to rally and play at an optimal level against some of the league's elite teams, even if they don't match up personnel-wise or from a talent perspective. Jets owner Woody Johnson is in Ryan's corner and New York's head coach is not on the hot seat this season by any means. If Gang Green were to make a move in the front office, general manager Mike Tannenbaum would likely be first to go in a worst case scenario. While Ryan has the full backing and support of management, the fan base has grown tired of his unfulfilled Super Bowl proclamations. With that in mind, Ryan has toned down his boisterous style, but he's certainly still amongst the best sound bites in the NFL.

Craig Massei: Tough blow for the Jets, losing Darrelle Revis, a truly great cornerback. How much does that hurt the Jets, and how much of a factor was Revis in their defensive plan? How much did Revis mean to the Jets in the big picture, and what will the team do to compensate for his loss?

Rick Laughland: Darrelle Revis isn't just the Jets best cornerback, he's the team's most valuable player. New York's defense is built around their shutdown cornerback's airtight coverage and ability to shut down an opponents' top receiver. With Revis lost for the year, Ryan's coaching talents and creativity will certainly be put to the test. Look for the Jets to be more aggressive up front with their blitzing packages to create pressure on the quarterback in order to force some mistakes. Antonio Cromartie is a legitimate No. 1 cornerback, although he will give up the big play from time to time. Third year pro Kyle Wilson has not lived up to expectations set when Gang Green drafted him in the first round of the 2010 draft. While there's no question that Revis' season ending injury is a devastating blow to their playoff hopes, he's only one player on a 53-man roster. Ryan and company will have to find some answers in the secondary and have already begun experimenting with playing running back Joe McKnight at cornerback. Even with Revis in the mix, the Jets' ranked dead last in the NFL in third-down defense allowing teams to convert 56 percent of their attempts through three games this season. New York's run defense has been spotty, so their problems on the defensive side run far deeper than just the loss of Revis.

Craig Massei: Heading into Week 4, the Jets are a first-place team in a division that has been ruled for quite a while by the New England Patriots. What are the Jets' chances of hanging onto that spot as the season progresses? Should this team still be considered an AFC power that went deep into the playoffs two consecutive years, or a team that came back to the pack last season? Where are the Jets headed this season, and where do you expect them to be at the end of December?

Rick Laughland: Right now the Jets are extremely fortunate to be 2-1, with a miraculous overtime victory against the Dolphins in Miami. With that being said, they still have enough talent and playmakers to contend for a playoff spot. With the issues the Patriots are having along their offensive line and an erratic defense, the AFC East division is more wide open than ever. If the Jets are able to stay afloat through a rigorous first half schedule, they have a more forgiving slate on the back-end of the year. There's no reason to think the Jets can't be in the playoff mix and if they can make the adjustments necessary to compensate for the loss of Revis, (call me crazy) they have a chance to keep pace with New England and Buffalo in the divisional race. By the end of December I expect the Jets to be hovering around the 10-win mark, and they'll finally be able to settle in offensively and accept life without Revis on their side. With Ryan at the helm and Sanchez under center, the Jets have proven to be a resilient bunch capable of winning road playoff games under hostile conditions. Even with their struggles, I don't think any team in the AFC would look past Ryan and the Jets during the postseason, with a track record of gutty victories and penchant for pulling dramatic upsets when the lights are the brightest.

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