New York Jets Problems – The Running Game

A closer look at the New York Jets problems running the football

The New York Jets spent the entire off-season talking about their running game in prideful, reverential terms. Yet never made the effort to improve it. They didn’t pursue a blue-chip running back. They didn’t add a run blocking tight end. They didn’t upgrade at the fullback position. Basically, they stubbornly stuck to their average starting running back, a below average fullback, a collection of unproven backups, and a group of wide receivers playing tight end. Are we surprised they have struggled to run the football through three games?

Despite many people’s insistence at holding on to hope for Shonn Greene, the problems with the running game start with him. The film breakdown from the first two weeks (and the third week) show him consistently leaving yards on the field. The numbers support this as well. Greene has 57 carries for 157 yards, which comes out to an embarrassingly low 2.8 yards per carry. With 22 carries, backup Bilal Powell has averaged 4.0 yards per carry. The contrast was most clearly shown last week when Greene could only rack up 40 yards on 19 carries (2.1 YPC) and Powell was able to accumulate 45 yards on only 10 carries (4.5 YPC).

If Powell would have had Greene’s 19 carries, he projects to finish with a solid 85 yards on the ground. The excuse that the offensive line isn’t creating holes is simply incorrect. Are they a dominant unit? No. However, they are opening lanes on a regular enough basis for a competent NFL running back to average 4 yards per carry.

Greene is a plodding back who seems to have lost a step from last season, a harsh reality that could have him out of the league within a few years. He cannot get the edge on outside runs. He cannot make anybody miss when he gets to the second level on inside runs. He stumbles frequently when receiving handoffs and isn’t running anybody over because he can’t generate enough momentum. When you get 27 carries in a NFL game and can’t crack 100 yards as Greene couldn’t in week one, you aren’t good enough to be a starter.

We constantly hear how Greene is a slow starter in both seasons and games. Why do the Jets need to wait until week 7 for Greene to get going? How about he comes into the season down 15 pounds and looking to gain a step, instead of starting even slower than he has the previous two years? Are the Jets expected to wait until Greene’s 15th carry in every game for him to have a single run over 3 yards? I don’t think it is insane to have higher expectations of a starting running back than that. This is his contract year and he has 57 carries for 157 yards…57 carries for 157 yards!

So what is the solution? The Jets would be wise to add an option from outside the organization, whether it is Ryan Grant via free agency or Chris Ivory via trade. However, Mike Tannebaum has shown no inclination to improve the running back position so why would he start now? If the Jets are staying in house, the answer is simple – make Bilal Powell the starter, make Joe McKnight the third down back, considering he is arguably the fastest player on the offense and can catch an out route out of the backfield better than Tim Tebow could. Speaking of Tebow, make him the short yardage back from the quarterback position. In case you haven’t noticed, Greene is poor in short yardage situations as well and that is something Tebow traditionally excels at.

Outside of running back, Konrad Reuland should play above Jeff Cumberland as the backup tight end when Dustin Keller returns. He should also see more action at fullback, since anything that keeps John Conner off the field is a positive. The Jets should also incorporate Jeremy Kerley into the running game. Kerley is averaging a monstrous 23 yards per catch and has shown the ability to make things happen as a returner and runner (on reverses and out of the Wildcat last year). Have you seen how Green Bay uses Randall Cobb? That is how the Jets should use Kerley in their running game.

The New York Jets running problems will only be solved if they turn away from the ignorant 20 carries per game for Shonn Greene. It is time for a committee approach that is more creative and gives Mark Sanchez the hope of having a balanced offense.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports

  • mike

    among jets fans, greene is still riding the good will he earned on one carry in the playoffs against the chargers almost three years ago. it’s obvious that he hasn’t been able to make the transition to being an every-down back, and as of yet he’s given us no reason to believe he will in the future.
    but i still think he can be a very very valuable asset if he receives his carries late in the game, like he did in san diego. if powell can average over 4 yds per carry in the first three quarters, greene is ideally suited to be the hammer, taking advantage of a tired defense that can’t secure tackles as well as in the first quarter.
    why the jets didn’t sign cedric benson in the off-season is pretty confusing. we’re a ground and pound offense without a legit starting halfback. yikes

  • Gustav

    I don’t think the problem is all Greene. The coaches are not using Greene for his strength. He is not an outside runner so stop putting Greene in the backfield with the wildcat. How many times has Greene gained yards from the wildcat. I only see negative yards because he is not fast enough to turn the corner. You need someone with speed in the wildcat like McKnight. Greene should be given the short yardage runs to see if he can win that job. Powell should be the starter and McKnight should come in in passing downs even though Powell is more than capable as well. Greene is a platoon player and not a starter so face it.

  • Dave576

    Nice review- on the money.
    Powell should start as Greene just isn’t punching through. Reuland is nailing assignments at FB and TE so appears he is growing comfortable with playbook in 3 quick weeks. When Keller returns, Sanchez confidence will return given he will have two safety valves he knows. Reuland has great hands and gives TE and FB options in addition to Keller running deeper route so am sure we will see quick tosses into flat.

  • Mark Phelan

    Well said Mike.

    Greene was impressive as a 2d half back. Not as a starter. Back in the day the OL was really impressive too.

  • steven

    ryan grant would do it. He’s just a phone call away

  • Angel

    Well, I hate to say it, but it may be time to relegate Greene to coming off the bench.

    I’ve been defending him for the past 2 seasons [he’s only needed defense for the past 2 seasons] and it looks as though his injuries have done some damage and he’s permanently lost a step. I think he’s a good RB, but Powell is looking a lot how Greene should be looking now.

    BUT, I disagree with the line blocking. No way is it anything resembling decent in the running game. The holes close up much too quickly and Greene is usually met by some defensive player in the backfield. Honestly, same goes for Powell, but he’s managing to get some yards anyway.

    I’d give Greene one more week. If he doesn’t produce, then start Powell and have Greene come off the bench later in the game. I think this is more due to the merits of Powell and less about the short comings of Shonn Greene.

    Damn, it pains me to say that.

    Oh yeah, and Sanchez had a shitty game. I hate when I’m defending a guy and they back it up with a shitty game and I have to listen to the morons gloat. THEN, any good games Sanchez has throughout the season doesn’t mean as much as that one shitty game… seriously… I think I’m beginning to hate Jets fans.

    Oh well, still love you guys here at Turn on the Jets…

    …no homo.