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It’s possible that you haven’t really been listening to everything that Rex Ryan has been saying ever since he guaranteed that the Jets are going to win the Super Bowl this year. Lucky for you, I have.
Here is the cliff’s notes version: Rex Ryan is fired up about his defense, Darrelle Revis looks better than ever, Plaxico Burress is healthy, Mark Sanchez is going to be an elite quarterback and lastly, we have the have one thing that Rex Ryan wants made very clear: the ground and pound running game is here to stay.
Ryan, along with running backs coach Anthony Lynn, intends to give third year running back Shonn Greene the responsibility of carrying out (pun intended) the majority of the work in 2011 and make him the team’s No.1 running back. He endorsed his strategy stating, “I’m thinking the plan is you’re going to get a heavy dose of Shonn Greene.”
Being a No. 1 running back in this league means that not only do you have to take a pounding week in a week out, but that you are going to see a LOT of touches. Lynn has said that he would like to see Greene get 300-plus touches this year. Just to put that into perspective, here is some comparative data on running backs’ from the 2010 season in the 300-touches range: Ahmad Bradshaw (323), Adrian Peterson (319), Matt Forte (288), LeSean McCoy (285).
There is no doubt that at 5-11, 226 pounds, Shonn Greene has the stuff to be the No.1 guy. He clearly has the size and strength to bust tackles and fly through holes, qualities that workhorses like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles posses. In the preseason opener against the Houston Texans, Greene’s runs averaged a very efficient 6.4 yards per a carry.
But for every game that Greene shows promise, there is another that causes concern.
There have been questions about Greene’s hands, which caused him to lose the No.1 spot to LT last year, an issue that worked on with Lynn. By the end of 2010, Greene had improved his pass-catching enough to earn back his spot as the No.1 back and propel him into the starting role this year.
Even more than his pass-catching skills, it is Greene’s durability that has people skeptical and unfortunately, the questions regarding Greene’s sustainability are not completely unfounded. After showing real promise in the preseason opener, Greene was sidelined for Sunday Night’s game, this time with a low-grade skin infection in this foot. To be fair, this is a flukey setback; one cannot blame this specifically on Greene’s “durability” but it certainly raises concern that after only one preseason game the guy is already dealing with setbacks.
For what it’s worth, when asked about the infection, Greene clarified that his absence on Sunday was more precautionary than necessity and insisted that it was, “not as bad as everybody made it seem.” Greene was able to play against in the Game against the Giants, and averaged just under 4 yards a carry.
Still, a “ground and pound” running game cannot exist on one back alone. In most efficient running systems (the New Orleans Saints immediately comes to mind) there is a system in place designed to maximize the effectiveness of the each runner and highlight individual strengths. So what about the rest of the Jets running game?
LaDainian Tomlinson had a bounce back career in 2010 and lead the Jets in rushing with 914 yards. But as his running in the AFC Championship Game indicated, LT is no longer able to sustain that kind of play over the course of an entire season. Given his age and the amount of wear and tear he has seen, Rex Ryan’s plan to have LT play the role of 3rd down back seems much more suited to the veteran RB’s abilities and is something that even LT himself is comfortable with. You can expect a lot more pass catching from him this year with some goal line carriers sprinkled in (for all you Fantasy Football Players).
As far as the remaining running backs are concerned, it appears that the No. 3 role is Joe McKnight’s to lose. He had yet to really prove himself but is coming off of an excellent performance in the Bengals game where he scored a touchdown and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. McKnight was overdue for a breakout performance and if he continues in this way he just might be able to keep rookie Bilal Powell from stealing that No.3 spot. We still have a one more game left to see what he’s got but McKnight just made it a lot more interesting.
Speaking of Powell, the rookie from Louisville really impressed in his first appearance against the Houston Texans. Lynn has stated that Powell is “definitely making the case” for the No.3 spot but regardless of where he ends up, it is clear Powell has a real future in this league and is a solid option should any one of the other starters suffer a setback.
If the Powell wrench was not enough, the Jets have now find themselves wondering what is to become of Chris Jennings, who was the most effective runner in last Sunday’s game with 81 total yards. By all accounts, this is a good problem to have.
It is obvious that the Jets have a lot of options for how they can choose to fill out their running back depth charts but one thing cannot be overlooked: the absence of Greene in last Sunday’s game proved that the Jets need Greene to fulfill their ground and pound mantra. The LT/McKnight/Powell combo only accounted for a combined 74 yards on 25 carries, an average of just slightly less than three yards per rush, against a paltry Cincinnati Bengals defense.
For my money, I do not think that the success of the ground and pound run game should rest on Shonn Greene alone. Yes, Greene is a necessary part of the system but I believe it will be the fine tuned dance between the 5 backs, along with an efficient offensive line, that will produce the best results. We (the media and fans) are guilty of seeking out a “Number One Guy” to name when maybe we should simply be hoping for a run game that exists on a core of guys working together and winning football games.