Mehta: Jets must stop running away from ground game

By on December 1, 2014

Putting the ball more in Chris Ivory's (l.) hands instead of Geno Smith's can only help the Jets.Elsa/Getty Images Putting the ball more in Chris Ivory’s (l.) hands instead of Geno Smith’s can only help the Jets.

No single change would have magically turned the moth-ridden Jets into playoff contenders, but a firm offensive identity catered to their personnel sure would have helped avoid the season-long freefall.

The core principles of winning football will never change no matter how many defensive rules are relaxed to satiate the fantasy football heads populating the landscape these days. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and hybrid tight end/wide receivers might be all the rage, but a championship formula must include a consistent running mind-set that has been missing in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense this season.

Mornhinweg’s philosophy of generating points through the air early and achieving balance later in games to grind out the clock works with the proper personnel. The Jets’ personnel strength, however, called for some good ol’ fashioned physical football.

Mornhinweg’s shaky quarterback play coupled with a dearth of game-breakers at receiver and tight end has made it nearly impossible to execute his plan.

“For our team to have success, we need to run the football,” said Rex Ryan, whose 2-9 team will host the Dolphins (6-5) on Monday night. “Maybe other teams can throw it 50 times a game. That is not the blueprint for us.”

The Jets executed a run-first blueprint in a Week 7 loss in New England. A dominant performance by the offensive line helped Ryan’s team rush for a season-high 218 yards and control the clock for nearly 41 minutes. Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson each had season-highs in carries to set the tone and nearly pull off the upset. The formula took pressure off a defense with a suspect secondary. It seemed so simple.

The Jets have the fifth-ranked rushing attack and are tied for third in yards per carry, but they haven’t fully invested in the run-based approach this season. The Jets had more pass attempts than rushes in three of the four games following the 27-25 loss in Foxborough. The Jets only win during that stretch, predictably, came they had a 2-to-1 run-pass ratio against the Steelers in Week 10.

Ivory and Johnson totaled 34 carries in Week 7 against the Patriots. The tandem has averaged half that (17.5) in the past four games.

“I’m all about running the ball,” right guard Willie Colon said. “As an (offensive) line, it allows us to set the tempo, set the tone. If you stick with it and you’re consistent with it, it opens up the pass.”

The Jets have a 54-46 pass-run split this season. They’ve won two of the three games that included more runs than passes.

Ivory, a man of few words, summed it up best: “It’s important to do both.”

Although quarterbacks are putting up record-setting passing numbers — 13 are on pace for at least 4,000 yards — the harsh November and December weather makes it impossible to ignore the run game. Even the high-flying Broncos realized that, rushing for 201 yards to beat the Dolphins in Week 12.

Simply put, the league’s best teams have balance.

Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense in Philly gashed the Cowboys for 256 rushing yards on Thanksgiving.

Dallas’ offensive line has rushing leader DeMarco Murray on a record-setting pace. Three AFC North teams jockeying for playoff spots (Bengals, Ravens, Steelers) are run-centric offenses. The Chiefs are built around Jamaal Charles. The Patriots have turned a no-name (Jonas Gray) and castoff (LeGarrette Blount) into integral pieces.

The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks have found their way again thanks to running everything through Marshawn Lynch.

The Jets haven’t been able to find their niche. Are they a running or a passing team?

“It changes from week to week…” Eric Decker said. “There’s no concrete identity. You got to do what the defense is giving you.”

That makes sense as long as you have the personnel to pull off the Belichickean routine from week to week. The Jets simply don’t have the players to be chameleons.

The Bills practically dared Ryan’s team to run the ball last Monday night by playing more Cover-2 than in the past. The light box should have led to a heavy dose of Ivory and Johnson, but the Jets had a 64-36 pass-run split in the first half.

“Looking back, sure we should run the ball,” Ryan said. “We want to run the ball. One thing we know we can do, we can run it against anybody.”

Geno Smith’s horrid play early on should have prompted an adjustment to better suit the personnel. Balance would have relieved some of the pressure off the erratic young quarterback.

The Jets just don’t have enough talent in key areas to consistently air it out.

They’ve never found an offensive identity during this lost season. 

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