The Jets can't hide the fact that they are 3-5 and without their one game-breaking threat, Santonio Holmes. But they can run.
Can they do it all the way to 10-6, which likely would get them in the playoffs, or 9-7, which still could in the soggy AFC? Not likely. But of course they have no choice but to take it one game — and one step — at a time.
The Jets are a middle-of-the-pack 14th in the NFL in rushing because they have already played the second (Houston), third (Miami), fifth (San Francisco) and seventh (New England and Pittsburgh) teams against the run.
The only two clubs in the top 10 the Jets play the rest of the way are San Diego (fourth) and New England again. Four of the last five games are against Arizona (23rd), Jacksonville (27th), Tennessee (30th) and Buffalo (31st), which is also a way of saying the Jets already have played the tough part of their schedule.
"We're running the ball at a better clip than we did earlier in the year," Rex Ryan said Wednesday. "I think if you look at our last 100 carries for instance, I think we'll maybe be at a 4.3 yard per rush, something like that."
Beats the 3.9 average for the season. Also increasingly beats the what-have-you-done-for-us-lately speculation that Shonn Greene has gotten old in a hurry. Teams let him slip to the third round in 2009 in part because of concern for his knees. But he had 161 yards against Indianapolis and broke a 36-yarder against Miami, when he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, not the sign of a guy winding down well before his time.
That's not likely the case with his line, either. The search for a right tackle is ongoing, but things are tough all over. For lack of a better alternative, the Jets are going to have to pound it out, both at Seattle Sunday (11th against the run, by the way) and into the heads of Gang Green's ever-despairing fandom that this is still a respectable team, even if we all know by now that it is not a great one.
The ground-and-pound, the object of Ryan's desire, is largely why Brian Schottenheimer is gone, why Tony Sparano is here, why Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson remain Pro-Bowl candidates. There is no hole in our logic here, the Jets just need some more holes for Greene to run through, and we don't buy the idea that they can't throw the ball well enough to make the run work, either.
Holmes stretched the field, of course, and it's critical that rookie Stephen Hill come on in the second half. But Jeremy Kerley is more than just serviceable and the return of Dustin Keller has in turn returned Mark Sanchez to a comfort zone. It disappeared again when the Jets appeared to get outguessed almost every time by the Dolphins' blitzing, but the Jets can throw the ball enough if they run enough, if they get ahead enough.
To do that, of course, they not only have to establish the run but stop it, which is another problem. But a lot of teams have problems, including most of the ones the Jets have left to play. And there also is an X factor, Tim Tebow, for whom Ryan had promised before the bye week to find more work until he disappointingly backed off Wednesday.
"It probably wasn't the smartest thing, me coming out with that statement," said the coach. "It's more about all of us and Tim included."
Hopefully he merely meant not making Tebow the savior of the season, which is not our intention, either. But there has to be some better use for this guy than as just a missile in a silo, putting the opponent on NORAD alert. More limited strikes, please.
It's a stretch to believe that the Jets can turn Tebow into a 15-plays-a-game running back. That's major change to a position he never has played, a job for minicamps, but in a league where a short -passing game can be your running game, we have seen only one attempt to get Tebow out in space, when that one pass hit him in the helmet because he turned too late. And where are the pitchouts?
We don't believe the prevailing opinion that Woody Johnson foisted Tebow on Ryan. The coach wanted him and now Sparano has to figure out what do with him, which really isn't brain surgery. While backup Bilal Powell's shoulder mends — it would be nice to learn what he can do, too, in Year 2 — No. 15 can run over tacklers and be an effective complement for Greene.
The Jets just have to let Tebow do it. As opponents stack the box, the Jets have to think outside of it. And then they can run themselves back to respectability.