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The Running Game: 'It's a Collective Thing'

The rushing numbers from Saturday night's preseason game were telling, and in his Monday news conference, coach Eric Mangini finished the sentence.

"The running game, I think that's another area that we have to improve," said Mangini, whose running backs totaled 50 yards on 21 carries against the Giants. "There were some runs that I was really pleased with and then some other runs that we didn't quite get what we wanted."

More perturbing is that through three preseason games, the running backs have averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. Also, there have only been two runs of more than 9 yards, and one came on a 12-yard reverse to wide receiver Brad Smith.

Before today's practice, the players responded and put the onus on themselves.

"Whenever you can't run the ball, the line isn't doing its part," center Nick Mangold said bluntly. "We have to get better as a front five and make more room for the backs. You make your landmarks and get your guys blocked up better to make the holes a little clearer for the backs."

Jesse Chatman and Leon Washington said that the blame should be evenly rationed and stressed that the backs need to improve as well.

"I should be pressing the holes a lot longer than I've been doing lately," said Chatman, whose 17-yard run against the Redskins has been the Jets' longest. "I'm making the cutbacks too soon and I'm not even a cutback runner. It's a matter of us not being disciplined enough."

Added Washington: "We can better our courses in approaching the line and better our reads. It's a collective thing."

The Jets' 3.8 yards per carry last season ranked them 22nd in the NFL. The off-season additions of guards Alan Faneca and Damien Woody and fullback Tony Richardson were made, in large part, to bolster the run blocking.

Faneca, a seven-time Pro Bowler, assured that the line's preseason problems are minor and definitely correctable. Mangini said that part of the issue is that the offense, so accustomed to facing a 3-4 alignment in practice, must adjust to "a very different style" when running against a 4-3 defense.

Faneca didn't disagree, but said that the Giants didn't do anything his group wasn't prepared for. What the Jets' line needs, he said, is to jell and develop chemistry.

Richardson, who knows a thing or two about rushing — having lead-blocked for Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and Adrian Peterson — said he isn't worried because the ground game is often the last component of an offense to mesh together.

"In the passing game, I can miss a block and the quarterback can still get the ball off," he said. "In the running game, you have to have all 11 guys doing everything right on a particular play for the runner to go far. Getting everybody sync-ed up often takes time."

A prime example of that — and a recent one — was Green Bay's offense last season. The most yards racked up by a Packers back through the first six games was 78 by DeShawn Wynn. But by late in the season, the line had become a dominant unit, Ryan Grant burgeoned and the front five's previous problems were forgotten.

"The great thing is we've got a couple more weeks before the opening game," Washington said. "We're going to do the things we need to do to improve that part of the game, I can promise you that."

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