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Jets need to find a ground game

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Oct. 03, 2011 @ 5:11 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

With Jets QB Mark Sanchez and RB Shonn Greene each entering his third season and expected to get more opportunities to make plays, 2011 was supposed to be a breakout season for the pair, especially Greene, and the Jets' offense, too.

After a 34-17 loss in which the Jets had 150 yards of offense and handed the Ravens three defensive touchdowns, it is clear that the Gang Green's offense is not where it is supposed to be.

Sanchez had a woeful game against Baltimore, and his O-line did not help him at all with terrible protection. Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson had no holes to run through, nor could they create something out of nothing. Heading into a crucial Week Five tilt with the Patriots, the offense needs to get back to running the football.

The PFW Spin

Sanchez is a game manager more than a game changer. Yes, he has played very well in clutch situations, but no one thinks Sanchez is an elite-caliber signalcaller who can carry an offense with his arm. He is best when the run game is moving the football and he can throw out of play-action.

As mentioned in this week's Audibles, though, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer might be trying to do too much with Sanchez and the offense. Last season, 49 percent of the Jets' plays were running plays. Through four games this season, only 36.8 percent of their plays have been on the ground, a 12.2 percent decrease.

Part of that disparity is the fact that the Jets have trailed in three of their four games this season, but sometimes it seems like the team is coming off the bus throwing, not running.

One problem, though, is the running game hasn't gotten going to a point where it can complement Sanchez. Greene is gaining a paltry 3.1 yards per carry. Defenses are stuffing the box to force Sanchez to beat them (and it's been working), but if Greene wants to be an elite back, he needs to make plays.

The O-line also has struggled to open holes for him. This is a group that paved way for the league's third-best rushing attack last season. Through four games, it ranks 30th. It hasn't helped being without Pro Bowl C Nick Mangold for 2½ games.

The Jets need to pound the rock effectively, and what they are doing isn't working. Against the Ravens, with an undrafted rookie at center going against DT Haloti Ngata, the Jets had three carries up the middle, according to the game book, which accounted for minus-one yard. Greene had three carries to the edge, rushing for five yards off right tackle and two yards on two carries off left end. Granted, Greene doesn't have the speed to turn the corner, but the inside running has not been working, and certainly wasn't going to work against Baltimore.

One possible solution would be giving Joe McKnight some more opportunities as a change-of-pace back. McKnight had a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on Sunday night and has been a weapon in all aspects of special teams. It is also evident that the run game misses Brad Smith, who rushed for 299 yards last season.

The Patriots' defense did everything in its power to confuse Sanchez in last year's Monday-night matchup. Sanchez threw three picks and the Patriots won 45-3. At times, New England would show blitz with eight guys at the line, only to drop eight in coverage. If Sanchez can read when the Patriots are bluffing, assuming Bill Belichick uses a similar strategy, holes could open up for the run game.

To allow Sanchez to succeed, Jets have to run the ball and run it well. All quarterbacks are much better on third-and-2 than third-and-long, but Sanchez even more so. Getting Mangold back should help, but remember, the Jets had only 45 yards rushing in the season opener with a healthy O-line against Dallas.

There are a lot of reasons for the rushing struggles — defenses stacking the box, the holes not being there and a lack of playmaking by Greene. But that's not a reason to have Sanchez throw it 45 times a game, it's a reason to fix what is broken.

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