As much as people try to bury the running game in the NFL, pounding the rock — and stopping the rock pounding — remain very much ingrained in the league's culture.
In fact, the way the Jets have been stopping the run, in the last month in particular, arguably has a lot to do with the green tide that's raising all boats as the Jets head into Sunday's home test against the Raiders.
After all, the Jets have risen steadily to the top of the NFL's run defense rankings, to the point where after holding Adrian Peterson and the Redskins to 54 rushing yards at 2.7 yards/carry, they now claim the top spots in the big-two categories: first in the league in rush yards allowed/game (79.1) and first in yards allowed/carry (2.98).
"I guess you could say it's a goal," LB Neville Hewitt said of maintaining the No. 1 rankings through the end of the season. "Our job and our goal is to stop the run. As dominant as we can be, we want to be the best at it. So that's the goal."
Needless to say, head coach Adam Gase has noted the throttling down of such as the Jaguars' Leonard Fournette, the Giants' Saquon Barkley and Peterson.
"It's been a group effort. You have 11 guys on the field that are willing tacklers, are aggressive," Gase said today. "You rarely see one guy bringing a guy down. You see five, six, seven guys run to the football. That's what you want. Sometimes it's a straight one-two effort, like who wants to be there more. Those guys have really put it on tape of what they're trying to do. They're playing physical, they're playing violent, they're playing aggressive football."
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Gase is right about everybody getting into the act. Just in terms of tackles for loss/no gain, which we've examined before this season, the Jets unofficially are averaging a robust 9.1 tackles/game at or behind the line on runs and receptions. Undrafted rookie DL Kyle Phillips has been the season-long leader in this category, currently with 10.5 tackles, but behind him are nine more defenders each of which has at least 5.0 such tackles through 10 games.
The benefits of stonewalling the run are an improvement in pass rush opportunities — which the defense has seen with its 16 sacks the last three games, the most in a three-game span since the Sack Exchange days of 1981 — and with a lift to the offense, which gets better field position when the D gets off the field a little more quickly.
Which is the more important number to the run defenders, per-game or per-carry? DL Henry Anderson pondered the question.
"I think per-carry is more important, just because obviously we've lost seven games so that's seven games we've been in a position where opposing teams have been able to run the ball," Anderson said. "If we were winning every game, teams all second half would be dropping back and passing the ball and their rushing yards would be lower. Yeah, yards per carry is definitely better because it shows the success opponents have had on average on every run."
Historically, the Jets run defense at the end of the year often been good to very good but never 1-1 good. Since 1970, the Green & White have never finished No. 1 in the NFL in rush yards allowed/game (they came in second in '70 and '15) and have led the pack in yards allowed/carry only in 1970 (3.14) and 2013 (3.35). And finishing first in both categories does not occur that frequently. Since 2000, only six teams have turned that daily double, most recently Detroit, then a playoff team in 2014.
But of course all this talk about No. 1 rankings is premature. Not taking care of business can blow up either low metric in the course of a bad game. The Jets have a half-dozen games to keep opposing run defenses in check and the schedule begins when a tough Oakland team comes to the Meadowlands featuring a veteran QB in Derek Carr, the NFL's No. 4 rusher in first-round rookie Josh Jacobs and the league's No. 9 rush offense in yards/game and No. 11 in yards/carry.
So the 6-4 Raiders will be a test to the Jets' run defense resolve as much as they will the Green & White's desire to extend their modest two-game winning streak.
"Yeah, they've got a good offensive line, a good young running back, and they pride themselves on running the ball as well," Hewitt said. "So it's a good challenge for us. And we're going to continue to do what we've been doing."