Can New York Jets Running Game Be Dominant?

Can the New York Jets return to having a dominant running game in 2012?

The New York Jets were 22nd in the NFL last season when it came to running the football, finishing with 105.8 yards per game. In 2009, Rex Ryan’s first year, they finished first in the league at 172.2 yards per game and in 2010 they dropped to fourth at 148.4 yards per game. Obviously, they are trending the wrong way and last year clearly failed to keep the “Ground” in “Ground and Pound.”

What is it going to take for the Jets running game to return to its once dominant form?

First off, the hiring of Tony Sparano to replace Brian Schottenheimer would seem to be a step in the right direction. Schottenheimer became increasingly pass happy in the previous two years, while the general impression of Sparano is that he is content to operate a run heavy offense. We know that Mark Sanchez performs at a higher level when the running game is humming and he could work off play action. Beyond that, a successful running game will help mask some of the inevitable problems the Jets will have protecting Sanchez with somebody like Wayne Hunter or Vlad Ducasse at right tackle.

Second, the Jets current group of running backs has so far proven to be nothing special. Shonn Greene has looked like a back who needs a strong compliment and isn’t capable of creating big plays. Joe McKnight has never really been given the chance to use his abilities on offense and Bilal Powell looked very average when given opportunities last season. The Jets are going to need Greene to run with the explosiveness he did during his rookie year and for McKnight to provide the compliment he needs. We saw Reggie Bush flourish in Miami last year, McKnight has a similar skill set and should be able to use his speed to create plays on the edges.

The real x-factor this season with the running game is Tim Tebow. I was not in favor of the trade for a variety of reasons, but at a minimum Tebow should provide a much needed shot in the arm to the Jets rushing attack. His ability to run the ball himself will provide another compliment to Greene and will open up lanes for both Greene and McKnight when the Jets are using the Wildcat or option.

Tebow rushed for 660 yards last season at 5.4 yards per carry. If the Jets had added a running back who did that last season, you’d be excited about them finding a needed 1B back to Greene right? There is no reason the Jets shouldn’t punish teams in short yardage situations with Tebow, Greene and fullback John Conner. Tebow’s threat to keep the ball will also create big creases on the edge for McKnight to take advantage of his speed on option pitches or sweeps.

The Jets haven’t done much this offseason to improved their passing game, pass rush or ability to cover the tight end yet by bringing in Sparano and Tebow, they have taken strides to move back towards having a dominant running game. A dominant running game has the ability to mask many other problems.

New York Jets: Pre-Season Week 2 Rookie Report

A week by week look throughout the pre-season at how the New York Jets rookies are performing

Muhammad Wilkerson – (1 tackle) – Another relatively nondescript performance from the Jets first round pick. However, Wilkerson did look a little more comfortable at the point of attack and seems to be holding his own out there. He has looked solid against the run but it would be nice to see break through one of these weeks and get after the quarterback a little.

Kenrick Ellis – (1 tackle, 1 tackle for loss) – Ellis surprisingly didn’t get the start for an injured Sione Pouha, with Martin Tevaseu stepping in instead. Yet, Ellis was still productive during his reps, even though the bulk of them came against the Bengals backups. He certainly has the look of somebody who should be a contributor in the Jets defensive line rotation.

Bilal Powell – (9 carries, 22 yards, 1 reception, 2 yards) – A bit of a let down after an encouraging debut. Joe McKnight took a big step towards locking down the number three running back job by outplaying Powell against the Bengals. Powell had a couple of chances to pound the ball in after Brashton Satele’s interception but couldn’t get in the end-zone.

Jeremy Kerley – (1 reception, 5 yards) – Kerley hasn’t translated a big training camp into a big pre-season yet. He had difficulty handling a punt and only managed 1 reception for 5 yards, despite getting extended work with the first offense. He does still look dangerous in the open field and was a tackle away from breaking a big kick return.

Greg McElroy – (6/9, 52 yards, 1 TD) – McElroy was again impressive as Mark Sanchez’s top backup. Despite lacking big time physical tools, he does play confident and seems to have a good grasp of the offense. He did a nice job executing a play action fake down by the red-zone, which led to a short touchdown pass to Joe McKnight.

Scotty McKnight – Another night without a recorded stat for McKnight, who is starting to look more like a practice squad player. Patrick Turner has looked better at receiver and Logan Payne has more value on special teams, while also getting an occasional rep with the starting offense.

Out of the undrafted free agents, Garret McIntyre and Nick Bellore both recorded two tackles each at linebacker. Receivers Dan DePalma and Mike Campbell didn’t pull in any receptions.

Jets vs. Bengals: What To Watch For

The Jets 20-16 loss in Houston last week left Jets fans concerned about depth on the roster. Thankfully the big pieces to the puzzle, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Santonio Holmes and the starting defense were sharp in limited action. Perimeter issues rose up however upon review of the contest, primarily that of the club’s backups heading into 2011 season. That said, here is what to watch for Sunday night at home as the Bengals come to town.

PLAX IS BACK:  It has taken two plus seasons but Plaxico Burress will finally return to a football field Sunday night. Burress will start after sitting the first week against Houston due to an ankle injury. All eyes will be on number 17 to see how he cuts, runs and handles game one of his partnership with new QB Mark Sanchez. The stadium will be rocking when Plax touches the football, making it the most exciting story of the night.

THE DUCASSE MICROSCOPE: Aside from Burress, no player will be scrutinized every single play by Jets fans though the way Vlad Ducasse will. The second year Jet caught the evil eye of many in Jets nation for his inability to slide laterally consistent enough in week one of preseason.

Ducasse is a key backup in more than one position on the offensive line this year and that scares alot of folks. Vlad needs a solid night to begin to build his own confidence. It’s not easy constantly switching positions and assignments. Howver, that is what the Jets have in store for him this year so he must start to provide a sense of calm to those around him. The danger created by his failure to achieve that is too scary to even talk about.

MAYBIN OR MAYBE NOT? Aaron Maybin turned out to be Buffalo’s Vernon Gholston. A first round bust of monumental proportions. However, as a Jet, the speed rushing LB simply needs to be disruptive during a handful of snaps each a week. Is Maybin going to be a steal, or an ex Jet by the opener?

MOVE CUMBERLAND AND TURNER UP: TE Jeff Cumberland took matters into his own hands last Monday. Was that a result of his going against the second and third string? We’d like to see Cumberland run routes early in this one, to get a sense of the type of weapon he could be in a a two TE set. Perhaps the Jets could even feature a two TE set with Dustin Keller on passing downs as well.

Patrick Turner’s hands looked great in Houston. His size was a factor in the red zone with his short slant route TD. Let’s see him work against the Benglas starting corners. What a nice WR corps this could turn into if Turner joins Kerley as new faces mixed in with older players like Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, and Derrick Mason.

POWELL’S CHANCE: With RB’s Shonn Greene out and Joe McKnight one week removed from a concussion, Powell may be poised to make his bid for a spot in the rotation. Ladainian Tomlinson will get a bunch of reps but the rest could go to Powell should McKnight get dinged up early on.

Last week Powell looked quick, cut nicely, and waited patiently for his blockers. We wait not so patiently to see him do it behind Nick Mangold and company. Sunday night may be Powell’s chance to show that he can be a guy who could contribute in 2011.

Sunday Night Is Powell’s Time To Shine

It wasn’t the nine carries for 25 yards against Houston last Monday night that has Jets fans both curious and excited about the potential of Bilal Powell. It was the athleticism and calm sensibility that he displayed from the carries. Powell cut back, broke out of packs, waited patiently for his blockers, showed a burst, and an energy. With Shonn Greene out Sunday night due to a skin infection and Joe McKnight dealing with the concussion received against the Texans, the bulk of the work against the Bengals will be handed to Ladainian Tomlinson, and Powell.

Powell had eleven touchdowns and a combined 5.6 yards average from the line of scrimmage as a senior at Louisville. Those numbers somewhat mirror the eight touchdown, 6.2 rushing yards per carry accomplishments that McKnight, also battling for the number three job, achieved during his senior year at USC.

At this time last year, McKnight was in the doghouse. A fumbling, vomiting rookie who was unsure of himself. This year, especially after his 158 yard performance against the Bills in the final week heading into camp, McKnight began camp as third on the depth chart. With the upside potential to receive more work provided that he could turn his speed and solid hands into chunks of yardage. McKnight still may be that weapon for Gang Green.

This Sunday night however, is Powell’s chance to show the Jets what he can be, as he gets work against the Bengals first team defense. A solid night from the Jets fourth round selection in this year’s NFL draft will create an interesting backfield drama as training camp heads into the latter stages.

New York Jets: Pre-Season Week 1 Rookie Report

A week by week look throughout the pre-season on how the New York Jets rookies are performing

Muhammad Wilkerson(2 tackles, 1 solo) – Wilkerson’s most notable play of the night was an offsides penalty but it is hard to expect too much on the stat sheet out of a rookie 3-4 defensive end going as a starter in his first action. He generally held his own up front, wasn’t pushed around and did get a decent push of his own on a few plays. Wilkerson certainly looked like he belonged out there and by the time September 11th comes around, he should be ready to be a solid contributor up front.

Kenrick Ellis(2 tackles, 1 solo) – Going against the backups, Ellis was more active around the football than Wilkerson despite having an identical stat sheet. He also batted a pass up in the air, which was intercepted by linebacker Josh Mauga.

Bilal Powell(9 carries 25 yards, 3 receptions 27 yards) – His yards per carry don’t indicate it but Powell showed good burst and vision in his performance, and now with Joe McKnight dealing with a concussion could have a chance to seize the #3 running back job. Powell was particularly impressive catching the ball out of the backfield, and nearly scored on a screen pass from Greg McElroy.

Jeremy Kerley – (3 receptions, 20 yards) – Kerley had such massive expectations coming in after impressing at camp, that any thing short of 150 yards receiving and two touchdowns could feel like a disappointment. Yet, the rookie wide receiver looked good on both offense and special teams as a returner. He is difficult to bring down and has good vision.

Greg McElroy (23/39, 208 yards, 1 touchdown) – McElroy was very impressive his debut last night. He took every rep after Mark Sanchez left, was beat up behind a makeshift offensive line, and rebounded from a shaky start. McElroy clearly lacks arm strength but showed accuracy on the intermediate routes and plenty of toughness. The Jets just may have found their long term backup for Sanchez.

Scotty McKnight – A night without any recorded stats for a rookie wide receiver isn’t a good thing. McKnight didn’t record a reception or make any tackles on special teams. He has an uphill battle to make the team following a strong offensive performance by Patrick Turner and a quality special teams effort from Logan Payne. Undrafted free agent  wide receiver Dan DePalma also had a good showing as a punt returner and on the coverage units.

Out of the undrafted free agents, outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre recorded two sacks and has a decent shot to stick on the final 53 man roster considering the Jets depth chart at linebacker. Tight end Josh Baker flashed very good hands and finished with 3 receptions for 45 yards. Undrafted free agent wide receiver Michael Campbell had a killer drop late in the game, which drew a few expletives out of Rex Ryan.

Jets vs. Texans: A Closer Look

The “Jets” fell short 20-16 but the preseason is never about winning. The primary goals are to avoid major injuries to key players, establishing some rhythm among starting units, while hopefully developing a few diamonds in the rough to add to the mix. So how did the Jets really fare in those categories last night? Let’s take a look –

MAJOR INJURIES:  The offensive line suffered a depth setback when backup center Rob Turner broke his leg. The Jets must add players to this unit. Damien Woody anyone? Joe McKnight may have suffered a concussion. LB Bart Scott rolled his ankle and left after the first play. The brightside? No season enders hit any starters.

RYTHYM: Mark Sanchez looked sharp in establishing a connection with both Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason. The starters saw extremely limited time on both sides of the ball. RB Shonn Greene ran hard and found space in the second level during his attempts. The defense was not really tested. Texan stars Andre Johnson and Arian Foster sat out the game. Kyle Wilson in his second year, was in better position to play the ball than we remember him being all of last year.

DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH: WR Jeremy Kerley has had a notable camp. The rookie WR was heavily involved throughout last night, showing good hands, quick feet, and an elusive ability in traffic. LB Josh Mauga replaced Scott and was around the ball constantly, with a sack and INT capping his efforts.

TE Jeff Cumberland displayed physical skill in the passing game, with consistent receptions and running after the catch. This furthering the excitement of Jets fans who envision a tight end heavy passing game due to the arrival of former Colts guru Tom Moore on the coaching staff.

RB Bilal Powell replaced McKnight and impressed us with his footwork and ability to wait patiently for his blockers before attacking the line of scrimmage.

Backup QB Greg McElroy rebounded from a sluggish start in his three quarters of action.The former Alabama product sped up his release time and displayed sharpness on short to mid range routes as the game progressed. He also fell victim to two deep ball drops, including one that could’ve won the game for the Jets late in the fourth.

Thoughts On Jets vs. Texans: Depth Concerns Remain

A look back at the Jets opening pre-season game, a 20-16 loss to the Houston Texans —

Mark Sanchez was an efficient 6/7 for 43 yards. His only incompletion was on a drop from Matthew Mulligan (teaching Sanchez a valuable lesson, to avoid throwing to a backup blocking tight end). The Jets didn’t take many risks with him, which was probably a smart thing since their offensive line was getting beat like a drum, including Sanchez being sacked twice before he even had a chance to finish his drop. Sanchez got both Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason involved with a few catches each, although he didn’t target Dustin Keller at all.

Shonn Greene looked very good, and crisp with 5 caries for 32 yards despite the “starting” offensive line struggling in pass protection. The main story coming out of this game on the offensive side of the football will be the concern about depth on the line. Rob Turner left with what appeared to be a relatively serious ankle injury and Vladimir Ducasse was beat twice for sacks, including one that resulted in a fumble and one that resulted in an injury (Turner). Those are the Jets top two backups and they currently have nothing but practice squad fodder behind them.

On defense, the starting unit held Houston to only 24 yards. Bart Scott left after the first play with a rolled ankle but appeared to be fine. Josh Mauga filled in admirably with a tackle for a loss and then a sack the following play. He also had an interception later in the game, taking a major step to solidify himself as a top backup linebacker on the roster. Kyle Wilson had a nice play on a third down to force Houston off the field but beyond that it was just another efficient night in the office for the Jets defense. Eric Smith did get beat by Owen Daniels in what could have been a big play if Matt Schaub was more accurate, which was somewhat concerning. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing more and more Brodney Pool on passing downs.

The second unit had their struggles initially, going against Matt Leinart of all people. They were continually fooled on the play-action bootleg and didn’t generate much pressure. I would have liked to see more out of Jamaal Westerman and some of the other reserve outside linebackers. Later in the game, Kenrick Ellis was very active and batted a pass up in the air which was intercepted. Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua also got a good push up front throughout the night, showing that the Jets defensive line depth could be better than expected. The backup corners and safeties were inconsistent and didn’t make as many plays on the ball as you’d like to see.

Similarly on offense, the backups started slowly but picked it up as the game went on. Greg McElroy showed a lot tonight by bouncing back from an ugly first few first series to put together an impressive overall night (22/39, 186 yards, 1 TD) even though he couldn’t finish the final drive to give the Jets a win. He stood in the pocket all night and was beat up behind a makeshift offensive line but kept putting the ball up down the field, even though his arm strength isn’t the greatest he could develop into this team’s long term backup.

Jeff Cumberland had a terrific night with 6 receptions for 77 yards. He is a big target, with soft hands and very good speed for a tight end. Brian Schottenheimer needs to find a way to involve him in some packages with the first unit. Patrick Turner used his size to catch a touchdown in the red-zone and provides potential Plaxico insurance. Jeremy Kerley didn’t have the monster night everyone expected but was still good after the catch and on returns.

Both Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell were productive. Powell was particularly impressive on a 19 yard reception out of the backfield. He showed good burst and a natural ability to run north and south.

Overall, it was about what you would expect out of a first pre-season game. The Jets have their home opener this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ground and Pound? Looking at the Jets Running Back Situation

Just four days into training camp,  Rex Ryan and his Jets have fired off their usual array of verbal salvos: They’ve already uttered Super Bowl guarantees and boasts about how this is “the best roster” in Ryan’s tenure.  But one surprising talking point has been in regards to the Jets’ offense, and how they plan on placing more of the burden on Mark Sanchez and the passing game.

While this is something that many Jets fans have been clamoring for (myself included), it’s also something that may give them reason to pause.

For two seasons, the Jets have not only survived, but thrived on their “ground and pound” philosophy, particularly in the cold-weather months at the business end of the season.  But perhaps the Jets’ shift to a more passing-oriented offense is a function of the Jets’ personnel in the backfield, which is far from a sure thing.

Everyone is ready to jump on the Shonn Greene bandwagon, but the only person that really matters in that equation is Greene himself.  His first two seasons with the Jets have been inconsistent; flashes of brilliance one week, absolutely nothing the next.  His game logs prove that point pretty well, so the question remains: can Greene shoulder the load over the course of an entire 17 week season, plus playoffs?

Greene is the de facto number-one because LaDainian Tomlinson is a year older.  After a fantastic start to 2010, Tomlinson’s production predictably dipped as the season wore on, though he remained a valuable option in spots and was an important safety valve for Sanchez as a receiver out of the backfield, especially on 3rd down.  This will be the 32-year old’s only role in 2011, and rightfully so.

Beyond Greene and Tomlinson are nothing but question marks.  Joe McKnight could barely handle training camp last season, forcing the Jets to put him at the mercy of Mike Westhoff on special teams.  Rex even toyed around with the idea that McKnight could play cornerback.  Aside from his monster performance in the meaningless Week 17 game vs. the hapless Bills, McKnight has shown the Jets absolutely nothing that should make them comfortable about him as their third-best running back.  If Greene or Tomlinson is injured, can McKnight fill either player’s void effectively enough?

Beyond McKnight is Bilal Powell, who thus far in camp has yet to really challenge McKnight for the third spot on the depth chart.  It’s early, but how much can the Jets realistically expect out of the rookie?

The Jets’ shift to a more passing-oriented offense is both exciting and nerve-wracking.  Plaxico Burress has already tweaked an ankle, Jerricho Cotchery waits in limbo, and we all know Brian Schottenheimer’s playbook often leaves a lot to be desired, especially in the passing game.  The Jets are still going to need a strong running game, probably one that ranks in the top 10 of the league, in order to get where they want to go this season.  Time (and injuries) will tell if that’s a realistic goal.

How Much Can Jets Offensive Rookies Contribute?

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer recently discussed the four new offensive rookies the New York Jets added in April’s draft, all of whom are skill position players. Looking at the 2011 season, if and when it occurs, how much can the Jets really expect from their rookies with such a shortened off-season?

Jeremy Kerley – Considering the roster situation, Kerley seems the most likely to contribute in his rookie year. If free agency goes how expected, there is going to be some reps available at the wide receiver position and Kerley is expected to work into the mix as a slot receiver. He should also compete for the punt return job with Kyle Wilson and Jerricho Cotchery. However, he will have to pick up the offense quickly which will not be easy, especially for a slot receiver where many route changes are made on the fly and are dictated by certain coverages. Punt return won’t be as complex obviously. Look for the Jets to start him off slow by only featuring him in certain packages.

Bilal Powell – The highest of the Jets offensive selections won’t have any pressure to contribute right away considering he is behind Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Joe McKnight on the depth chart. Similar to Greene’s rookie year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him inactive for the first part of the season while he picks up the offense and then maybe get worked in depending on injuries and the productivity of the players in front of him.

Scotty McKnight – He does already have the chemistry with Mark Sanchez which will help him in his battle for reps at slot receiver. As a 7th round pick he will have an uphill battle to even make the roster so the pressure will be on to make an immediate impact in the pre-season. He is also going to have to show that he can contribute on special teams, which is something he didn’t really do in college.

Greg McElroy – McElroy is more than likely going to be the third quarterback, unless something unexpected happens in training camp or the pre-season. Apparently, he was just about the smartest player in the draft and he has two good mentors in front of him with Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell, so he should be able to handle his role this season.

New York Jets: What To Do With All Those Running Backs?

One the of more crowded positions on the Jets roster heading into the 2011 season will be running back, where four players will be battling for reps and touches. Let’s take a quick look at the depth chart —

1. Shonn Greene

  • 2010 stats – 185 carries, 766 yards, 2 touchdowns.
  • 3rd year veteran, strong inside runner who has an ability to wear down a defense and pop a big run.
  • Struggles with consistency, fumbling, and injuries.

Greene is coming off a disappointing 2010 season where he never seized the starting job. Rex Ryan has been on record has saying Greene will be his “bell cow” this season and that the starting job is his to lose. It will be interesting to see how he can handle 17-20 carries on a weekly basis if the Jets give him that opportunity.

2. LaDainian Tomlinson

  • 2010 stats – 219 carries, 914 yards, 6 touchdowns.
  • Future hall of famer, great vision and quickness. Excellent receiver out of the backfield.
  • Aging, struggled down the stretch last season.

Tomlinson exceeded expectations last year, especially in the first half of the season. He gradually began to wear down but still was productive in the playoffs. Tomlinson has already publicly embraced the role of third down back and is a valuable leader on the Jets offense.

3. Joe McKnight

  • 2010 stats – 39 carries, 189 yards
  • 2010 4th round draft pick, selected for speed, big play ability, and receiving skills.
  • Overwhelmed in rookie year and never made any signifigant contributions.

Everybody is waiting to see if Joe McKnight’s rookie struggles will provide a kick in the butt for him in year two. He has plenty of talent and potential but can he carve out a role for himself in the Jets offense? Hopefully, he can contribute on outside handoffs or tosses, screens, and use his receiving ability occasionally in the slot.

4. Bilal Powell

  • 2011 4th round pick
  • Had monster senior season at Louisville after three quiet years.
  • Similar running style to Shonn Greene.

The Powell selection surprised many but the Jets are hoping he can develop into Shonn Greene’s long term backup, while McKnight works into being the third down back eventually. Powell could have a shot to make an impact his rookie year if there are injuries or McKnight struggles in training camp again.