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.