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Jets can't run, opt to trip and stumble

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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Posted Dec. 13, 2010 @ 11:06 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

For the first time in 2010, the Jets have lost back-to-back games, falling 10-6 to the Dolphins less than a week after a dismal 45-3 blowout loss to the Patriots on "Monday Night Football." There is a sense that the sky is falling around the team as writers, fans, even some players and coaches are beginning to think that the team is overrated. And really, who can blame them? New York was embarrassed twice in a six-day span by divisional opponents whom the Jets had beaten earlier in the season.

The loss to New England was troubling for a variety of reasons, but the Miami game might have been worse. Unlike being exposed by the best team in the league with the league's MVP under center, the Jets were beaten by a .500 team quarterbacked by a passer who completed only 28 percent of his throws.

Making things worse, the Jets are in even more headlines for the wrong reason, thanks to strength-and-conditioning coach Sal Alosi, who intentionally tripped Dolphins CB Nolan Carroll when the player was running downfield in punt coverage. Alosi was suspended by the team for the rest of the season and fined $25,000, but this appears to be just another distraction for a team that has had too many of them already this season.

The PFW spin

Lots of critics will point the finger at QB Mark Sanchez, who has looked uncomfortable in each of the team's past three games, as the reason the team lost Sunday. Others will single out WR Santonio Holmes, who dropped an easy touchdown catch in the endzone and caught only two of the nine passes thrown to him, as the Jet who cost his team the game. And head coach Rex Ryan hasn't been immune to criticism either, nor should he be after the way the team has played and acted recently.

Yet it appears that much of the fault lies at the feet of RBs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Those feet haven't been doing much positive running lately, a major reason the Jets are in this late-season tailspin.

The Jets started the season as a run-first team, with the veteran Tomlinson running for more than 4.7 yards per carry in each of the team's first five games. He also was finding the endzone, rushing for five touchdowns before the team's Week Seven bye. Greene was the reliable backup, complementing L.T.'s shiftiness with a straight-ahead approach. The tandem helped the team's passing game evolve, as defenders were drawn close to the line in order to stop the run, helping Sanchez find open receivers down the field.

Tomlinson and Greene began slowing down after the bye, rushing for just 76 total yards in a bad loss to the Packers in Week Eight. Those struggles continued into the next four contests, all of which were Jets wins, but all of which needed second-half comebacks by Sanchez.

Since the last of those four wins, a Thanksgiving-night game vs. the Bengals, the running game has completely stopped working. Tomlinson has 145 yards on 42 carries the past three games, a 3.5 average, well below what he was gaining earlier in the year, and he hasn't scored a touchdown in seven straight games. Greene, who was seeing an increased workload in the middle of the year, has seen his carries decrease in each of the past two games to as few as eight attempts for 17 yards vs. Miami; he also has been touchdown-less since Week Five.

Without much of a run game, the pressure has been all on Sanchez, and the second-year quarterback has folded like a bad poker hand. His accuracy has never been a strength, but the last few games have shown that he has a long way to go in hitting receivers in tight coverage. A banged-up offensive line hasn't helped either the runners or the passer, making the entire offense a large question mark heading into consecutive road games at Pittsburgh and Chicago, two teams that have been known to punish struggling attacks. The Steelers rank first in the league in run defense, and the Bears are No. 2, meaning things may get worse for the Jets' ground attack before they improve.

Of course, New York's running game can be rediscovered as quickly as it was lost, and both Tomlinson and Greene could rebound with big games over the season's final three weeks. The playoffs are still within reach for the 9-4 team; a year ago the team reached the AFC championship game despite finishing 9-7 in the regular season. The sky isn't falling ... yet. But in order for the team to turn it around, it will need its ground game to revert to its earlier ways or the only thing the Jets will be running to is the offseason. 

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