Jets Won’t Force It, Yet Better Find Their Rushing Attack

The flexibility in Rex Ryan’s approach to gameday was needed and welcome last Sunday night but the Jets running game must deliver better in 2011 than it did against Dallas. Otherwise, Mark Sanchez and the Jets defense must both reach much higher levels of output, in order to help Gang Green return to playing games in late January.

At a press conference earlier this week Rex Ryan spoke about a coaching error he made halfway through the 2010 campaign that may have played into his thinking against the ‘Boys. The mistake occurred in Detroit, when Ryan declared that the club HAD to run the ball a specific amount of times. Thirty five times to be exact, against the Lions. The rushing attack then of course struggled all day. Worse, the albatross of having to reach a carries quota almost did the entire team in. Ryan jumped ship though, reneging on that plan. This allowed the Jets time for some late heroics through the air, on their way to a 23-20 comeback win in OT.

Fast forward to the Cowboys, where the Jets abandoned the run sooner than anyone expected them to. Sixteen carries for a paltry 45 yards. A 2.8 average that forced Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to rethink things at halftime, trailing 10-7.

Ryan admitted Tuesday, that since the Lions game, he’s gone with the idea that the method of attack will be based not upon a script to follow, but in assessing the flow of the game and what opposing defenses want to take away. Hopefully for the Jets, Ryan’s talk of reacting rather than force feeding rushing attempts, is not a cover up for a “Ground and Pound” mentality that has been grounded more than it has pounded since the departure of Thomas Jones prior to the 2010 season.

The original plan as far as bringing in future Hall of Fame RB LaDainian Tomlinson was NOT to switch the 2009 roles of a backfield that let Jones plow ahead for three quarters while letting Greene add the final punishing late game blows to a worn out opposition. It was rather to expand the variety. Tomlinson was seen as a player who could open up the screen game and widen the field while Greene was projected as a younger version of the hard hitting inside running Jones.

However, Greene struggled right from day one in the feature role. Greene’s careless week one fumble late in the first half against the Ravens not only sent the momentum of a tight game to Baltimore (10-9 winners over the Jets that night), it sent Greene back to the bench.  LT was then forced back into the top billing. A status that his long time former team, the Chargers, had felt was beyond his current capabilities as a back in the latter stages of an amazing career. The very reason for LT’s availability on the open market prior to the start of last season.

Monday night the Jets were set to try it again. “Take two” if you will, using Greene as the primary, and Tomlinson as the added ten touch flavor. However, Greene struggled again with just ten carries for 26 yards.

The Jets then flipped the script on Rob Ryan’s run heavy defense. A unit also aided by the dominating pass rushing prowess of DeMarcus Ware. By using LT with screens, the Jets killed two birds with one stone. They covered up an inability to gain yardage on the ground AND slowed down the devastation that Ware was leaving in his wake on the Jets passing game.

It worked. LT was key in the come from behind win. Catching balls and moving chains the entire second half. The Jets won the game, yet there are those who wonder if we are witnessing another painfully slow start for Greene in 2011.

Greene HAS been a force though late in seasons, and especially in the playoffs for two years straight. Greene has amassed 502 total yards and three TD’s with a five yard plus per carry average in five and a half postseason games (he got injured and missed the entire second half of the AFC championship at Indy in 2009).

This year though, the Jets may not be able to wait until the year is half over. Hated AFC rival the Patriots look as explosive as ever. A three game road stretch that includes the Raiders, (where the Jets always struggle), Baltimore and Pats follows Sunday’s battle with the Jaguars. Falling behind in the standings early would mean that the Jets would be playing for a wildcard before Greene typically heats up. A troubling scenario that again would leave the Jets to have to fight their way out of the AFC playoff field on the road.

Maybe the Jets in fact, whether they want to admit it or not, wont become the pre 2010 backfield hybrid design of Greene inside and LT sprinkled in through the passing game. Rather, they will end up as one that runs and dumps off screens equally.

If so, there will be those who will find this potential “flex” like blueprint for the backfield to be a slow death sentence. Concerned with any ideas of rebranding the Ground and Pound into the Run and Screen. One of those is former Jets OL and current ESPN analyst Damien Woody who told us via twitter this week:

“that’s all good but you have to be able to run the ball in November and December.”

Sunday’s game against the 1-0 Jaguars, who have alot of late newcomers on defense due to the NFL Lockout, seems like a good place for the Jets run game to start kicking it into gear. Ryan won’t force things if it doesn’t  though, and that’s a good thing. However, if Rex has to keep pulling the plug on the run, then the onus will REALLY be on Sanchez and a Jets defense that still lacks a game changing pass rusher.

The Jets won’t shove the Ground and Pound down anyone’s throat in 2011, but they better see signs of life from Greene and co. before we reach Halloween on the calendar. Otherwise, as Woody alluded to, November and December could become empty and cruel to a franchise that has for the past two years, lived for the cold weather.