Identifying the Cracks: The Running Game

  Shonn Greene Of The New York Jets Runs

“If we don’t identify the cracks, we’re going to keep on having the same problems.  I don’t know who’s going to fix it, but somebody’s got to man up and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this done. (Cut) the dumb stuff.’”

Derrick Mason

So where are all the cracks that Mason is talking about? Let’s talk about it in cause and effect fashion.  We started this series yesterday with the biggest issue, the offensive line, and today we’ll continue with the running game, and then the other following reasons on why this team can’t get out of their own way.

The running game is the first casualty of this offensive line.

Is he or isn’t he?  Can Shonn Greene carry the load for this team?

LaDainian can’t be expected to be the primary back any more, and wasn’t even expected to be last year.  On the other side, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight (who’s certainly earned some time on offense based on his first month’s play) might see more time in offensive sets as the season wears on.  Bu ultimately, this running game will live and die with Shonn Greene. 

Does Greene need to do a better job of holding onto the ball?  Yes.  Is he up to the challenge of keeping the chains moving?  Going forward, I think he will be and I’ll explain below.

We talked yesterday about how the Jets had mis-addressed their offensive line issues at every turn since July and how we started to see it bear bad fruit at the start of the season.  Beyond having a player of Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson’s caliber, the single biggest determinant of the relative health of a running game is of course a team’s offensive line.  If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the ongoing argument of who was a better running back, Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders?  Many thought that Sanders was better, but in playing for the Lions, his production was limited since Dallas had what was perceived as such a superior line.  Well, Football Outsiders has dedicated a whole section of their site to tracking how good (or bad) offensive lines are, and it’s pretty solid analysis.  Because the offensive line isn’t getting the proper push, the Jets have struggled so far, and it’s adversely impacted just how good the Jets running game can be. 

Shonn Greene is a competent back, moreso than he’s being allowed to show because of the challenges he’s been up against so far this season.  Speaking just about the run game, two years ago the Jets had an offensive line that was basically five assassins and they took a step back last year with the removal of Faneca from that group.  Slauson has picked it up in that time, but he’s still on the whole a downgrade.  But a downgrade with upside … if that even makes sense.

This year, the Jets took another piece of that puzzle out with Damien Woody, arguably the most important lineman when it comes to running the ball.  Oftentimes the Right Tackle is the “Mauler” on the line whose job is to tangle with or clear out as many bodies as possible on running plays for their running backs.  Hunter might be getting better, but overall the product is just not as refined as it was last year, and might never be until the Jets find their long-term replacement at the spot.

The light at the end of the tunnel.

The good news?  Even if the Jets line can just stabilize, they should start to get much better production out of their run offense in the coming weeks, not because they are going to get so much better, but because they are going to start seeing much worse run defenses.

According to Football Outsiders, the Jets have faced the following ranked run defenses so far: Dallas (3rd), Jacksonville (5th), Oakland (21st), Baltimore (4th).  So what does this mean? It means that with the exception of Oakland, the Jets have faced a murderers row of running teams.  Of course, the issue with Oakland was that they didn’t have Mangold to play and so the team faltered, but still did perform semi-commendably on the ground, running for just over 100 yards as a team.

Coming up, the Jets play New England (26th), Miami (28th), and San Diego (20th) heading into the BYE. Not exactly the same level of talent as what they just saw.  The Jets won’t face another top ten run defense (as currently ranked) until they take on the Broncos (9th), and then not again until they take on the Giants (10th).

Analysts often talk about a runners’s patience to wait for his hole.  This year, the same has to be said for their opening month’s schedule in terms of their whole running game.  With the likelihood of Mangold coming back, the potential of the team bringing in Brandon Manumaleuna as an extra blocker, and Wayne Hunter getting more acclimated to his role, the Jets might round the corner very soon.