In case you haven’t heard, the New York Jets are committed to running the football this season. It is said so frequently, that you wonder if members of the organization think they could increase their yards per carry simply by talking about the running game. Here is an overview of the type of quotes we have been hearing all off-season about returning the offense to their lost “Ground and Pound” identity –
“We’re a power football team…we’re going to get physical with these guys, run, we’re going to punch the ball in there.” – Dustin Keller
“I think for us to be successful as a team, we have to be able to run the football. Sometimes is it going to be tough sledding? Absolutely. But that has to be who we are.” – Rex Ryan
“Start on the ground and take it from there” – Shonn Greene
“This is a physical football team; I like playing a physical style of offense. I think anybody that knows me knows I want to be physical.” – Tony Sparano
“We are a team that’s built for that. I think bringing Tony Sparano in will be great for us, help us get back to our swag, and just help us get out there and do what we do best.” – John Conner on running the football
You would think for a team so adamant about running the football, there would be more of a concern about the current depth chart at running back. Currently this is what the Jets are heading into the season with –
Shonn Greene – The reality on Shonn Greene is this, if you remove three monster games during the 2009 season (2 of which came in the playoffs), he has proven to be a slightly above average NFL back at best. He is a good straight ahead runner but has shown little elusiveness and limited big play ability. His skill in the passing game leaves something to be desired. To his credit, his durability and fumbling issues are overstated. Greene didn’t lose a fumble last season and missed a portion of only one game. However, at his best Greene is a player that needs a quality supporting back alongside him.
Joe McKnight – McKnight has shown potential and it is fair to hope that with an expanded role he could become a capable third down back and big play weapon. Yet, he had 43 carries last season and averaged a disappointing 3.1 yards on those carries finishing only with 134 yards rushing. McKnight also has viable durability concerns as he was banged up all of last season despite only having a very limited role. As a backup to Greene, he is not built to run the ball inside when spelling him. If the Jets are running 35-40 times a game, could McKnight be counted on for 12-14 carries on a weekly basis?
Bilal Powell – A 4th round pick last year who didn’t look good when given a small opportunity. Last season he averaged 1.6 yards per carry and fumbled inside the 1 yard line when he was fortunately bailed out by Matt Slauson recovering the ball in the end-zone. Yes, he only had 13 carries in the regular season but in the pre-season when given a total of 22 carries, he finished with 62 yards (2.2 yards per carry). Basically, Powell looked like a slowed down version of Greene which is why many questioned taking him so high in the 2011 draft. He has been banged up for a portion of spring practices with a hamstring injury.
Terrance Ganaway – Yes he did run with an encouraging amount of power in college and is familiar with the option, which could get him on the field with Tim Tebow. But how much faith could you place in a 6th round rookie, who only started and produced for one season in college?
While I do think Tim Tebow will be a factor in the Jets running game, particularly in short yardage situations. I wouldn’t expect him to get more than 4-6 carries a game.
Doesn’t it make sense to add another running back? Shouldn’t a self-proclaimed run heavy team have as many reliable power running backs on their roster as possible? There is no need to risk having a major issue at running back if Greene happens to go down for a few weeks and then you are forced to hand the entire running game off to three unproven players in McKnight, Powell and Ganaway.
Right now there are two cheap, proven veteran options available in Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant. Benson had nearly identical statistics to Shonn Greene last year and is a capable power back. The Jets don’t need him to start but he could easily provide 6-8 carries a game and start a few games if Greene goes down with an injury. Grant has a higher upside and despite durability questions is only two years removed from a 1,253 yard season with 11 touchdowns. He could easily be a spot starter and is a more natural receiver out of the backfield than Shonn Greene.
Why not add another proven veteran at a place where you are thin? New England could have easily handed off their running game to just Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen but they covered themselves by signing Joseph Addai for insurance because that is what good teams do, they protect themselves.
There is no reason to be cheap at running back when your entire identity is going to be built around running the football. On a team like Green Bay or New Orleans, you can’t have enough receivers. On a team like the Giants, you can’t have enough pass rushers. On a team like the Jets, it should be that you can’t have enough running backs.