BGA: Running Backs – Backward Thinking

We’ll get into the individual player analyses further down, but for now I want to focus on the Jets’ approach to the running game. Statistically speaking, they had 99 yards on 22 carries, which is not bad. The numbers don’t tell the whole story though.

The Jets ran the ball just five times in the first half and racked up a healthy 81 yards on 17 carries in the second half. Clearly, they had the ability to establish a running game, but ended up doing so when it was far too late. Had that been the Jets’ first half gameplan, perhaps the defense would have been fresh and able to dominate in the second half. Those two touchdowns, which featured tired tackling from demoralized players, might not have happened either.

Obviously the best laid plans can get away from you and the Jets’ gameplan probably anticipated gaining some momentum with some early first downs through the air, but a look at the play-by-play does show that there were opportunities to run the ball, especially on second downs. The Jets had seven second downs in the first half and, while two of them were second and long due to a sack and a penalty, the others were all eight yards or fewer to go. In fact, two of them were three yards or fewer. On those seven plays, they passed six times, with the only run coming on second and eight from their own three yard line. You don’t establish a running game by throwing the ball, especially when your quarterback is struggling.

That wasn’t the only counter-intuitive aspect of the Jets’ gameplan. They repeatedly ran a bunch of fake reverses to Stephen Hill, handing the ball off up the middle every time. The concept behind that makes sense — you get the defensive end to contain the edge which makes it easier to leverage him to the outside and create a lane between the tackles. However, if you’re not going to give Hill the ball, the defense will anticipate the fake and pinch in to stop the expected run up the middle.

Now, if the Jets were actually to give Hill the ball, then maybe that play would pay off because the defensive end would anticipate a fake and get caught inside. However, using that play to establish a threat, and therefore help your chances of getting your core running game going, would seem to make a lot more sense than never doing it and then having your running game struggle to get going just so you can have success on a one-off play somewhere down the line.

After a quiet first half, Bilal Powell made a couple of good plays with Simms under center, cutting back for a first down, getting another first down up the middle and picking up 20 on a screen pass. However, he fumbled a hand-off, had two passes go off his hands and got tackled in the open field short of the marker on third down, so it was a mixed bag. Powell hasn’t had 50 rushing yards in a game or a 20-yard run since Brian Winters has been starting.

Chris Ivory showed some flashes in the second half, reversing his field on one spectacular 32-yard run. The fact that he gained 65 yards after contact, but only had 61 yards in total says it all. Ivory actually caught a pass this week, breaking a couple of tackles for a 12-yard gain. However, he had issues in pass protection, where on one play he failed to anchor himself and was driven back into Geno Smith, who was sacked.

Fullback Tommy Bohanon also had a couple of issues in pass protection, getting beaten for one pressure and releasing a blitzer on another play. He did have one good lead block in the running game.

Finally, Alex Green was active again, but didn’t see action on offense.

Next up…we look at the offensive line and shake our heads wistfully…