Heading into the midseason bye weekend, we'll be reviewing and previewing the Jets' units this week. Today: Offense.
Shortly after taking the Jets' head coaching reins, Rex Ryan said his offense was going to have a "Ground & Pound" philosophy. And halfway through its 2009 season, New York's AFC representative has rushed more times and for more yards than anyone else in football. While the Jets are an excellent running team, the passing attack remains a work in progress with a rookie quarterback and a talented group of receiving targets.
The Jets, who own a 4-4 mark at the halfway point, average 36.9 rush attempts per game and 177.6 yards on the ground. Their 4.8-yard per carry average is tied for the fourth-highest mark in the league, their 12 rush TDs are tied for first and their 11 runs of 20-plus yards also ties them for the league lead.
Behind one of the game's most talented lines, 31-year-old Thomas Jones is on pace for a career-best 1,408-yard campaign. Jones, who has topped the century mark in three consecutive games, is averaging an impressive 4.7 yards per rush and he's already collected seven rush TDs after setting the franchise mark in 2008 with 13.
"I'm just taking what the defense gives me," TJ said. "The offensive line has done a great job this year. We've been seeing bear fronts [teams lining up a safety as an extra linebacker in the box] — we saw it the whole game against the Dolphins," he said. "Teams have been putting eight and nine guys in the box the whole year and the tight ends and Tony Richardson have given me some cracks to run through. I'm not sure if I'm running the best I have in my career, but I'm going to try to run as hard as I can."
Unfortunately, the Jets lost their most explosive offensive weapon when Leon Washington suffered a broken fibula in the Week 7 win over the Raiders. Washington had been averaging more than 10 carries per game and would have most likely set personal highs in both carries and receptions.
"He's not just a change-of-pace type back. He can do it all," Ryan said of the 5'8", 195-pound Washington. "He's great out of the backfield. He can protect the quarterback. He can run the Seminole package or Wildcat and you can flex him out wide as a receiver. He is an incredible, great, versatile player. It's going to be hard. There's no way one guy can replace him. There's no way that can happen."
Rookie Shonn Greene, the third-round rookie who set Iowa school records last season with 1,850 yards and 20 TDs, filled in for Washington against Oakland and turned in a 144-yard, two-TD effort. But he didn't find success quite as easy in Week 8 against the Dolphins, being held to 18 yards on eight carries and losing a third-quarter fumble that resulted in a defensive score.
Danny Woodhead could be used as a changeup back in the second half, but you'll continue to see a lot of Jones and Greene — both hard-charging runners who look to get downhill. The Jets, who became just the sixth team in NFL history to rush for over 300 yards in back-to-back games (Week 6 vs. Buffalo and Week 7 at Oakland, have to feel great about where their rushing attack is as the winter season approaches.
It is far more difficult to forecast the passing game because they're riding the roller-coaster with a rookie signalcaller. Mark Sanchez, solid in his first three games, came back to earth in a Week 4 defeat at New Orleans where two of his four turnovers resulted in 14 points, then was victimized by a five-interception day two weeks later in a bitterly disappointing OT home loss to the Buffalo Bills.
"Those two — the New Orleans game and the Buffalo game — were just two stinkers. They were bad," Sanchez said this week before departing for Southern California. "There are no two ways about it. Bad, poor decisions, poor reads and just terrible games by a quarterback."
Sanchez is the league's 28th-rated passer with a 67.9 rating, his 53.5 completion percentage ranks 31st and his 10 picks are tied for fourth most in the NFL. But he performed like a veteran in his first three games, outplaying the likes of Matt Schaub and Tom Brady. And after that disastrous outing against B-Lo, he was solid against the Raiders and then had one of his best days as a pro in Sunday's home loss to the 'Fins, completing 20 of 35 for 265 with two passing TDs and one rush TD. (Not considered a major player in the G&P, Sanchez's three rush TDs are the most by a Jets QB since Richard Todd had five in 1980.)
"The way I bounced back, I was proud of that," said Sanchez, whom the Jets selected with the No. 5 overall pick in April after a draft-day deal with the Browns. "The way I wasn't afraid to throw it after that, I'm real proud of that. I have had the same mindset the entire time, that something good is about to happen. We're on a great football team. I don't have to do it on my own."
"I think the guy's had a pretty darn good year," Ryan said. "Obviously he's only going to get better."
The Jets don't lack for weapons around Sanchez, but a learning curve should have been expected. He developed a great rapport with Jerricho Cotchery in the season's first quarter as J-Co averaged 89 receiving yards per game, but then the underrated wideout suffered a hamstring injury and was limited in Week 5 at MIA before being placed deactivated in Weeks 6 and 7.
After a 3-1 start, general manager Mike Tannenbaum found a new starting receiver to line up opposite Cotchery by acquiring Braylon Edwards from the Browns for a pair of players and draft picks. The 6'3", 215-pound Edwards is a big vertical threat with all the physical tools and he's caught 13 balls for 192 yards and two TDs with his new team.
It was also good to see Sanchez get some chemistry going with TE Dustin Keller before the bye as they connected eight times against the 'Fins for 76 yards and a score. While speedster David Clowney has pitched in with 11 receptions, Brad Smith suffered a quad injury at Miami and missed Games 6-8.
The Jets find themselves in the middle of the road in both points (22.1 per game, 18th) and yards (342.1 yards per game, 16th). But the run game is lights out and if the Jets see continued development from the young man behind center, who will turn just 23 next week, then watch out.
"I don't want to play like a rookie. I want to play like a 10-year vet, a Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl champion," Sanchez said. "That is the way I want to play and that's the way I feel like I can play with this team around me."
Sunday: Special Teams