Is a Change at Running Back in Order?

Florham Park, N.J.- Darrelle Revis is out for the season and as Rex Ryan said it’s up to every one of his players to step up in Revis’ absence. That means not just the defense, but the offense as well.

Dustin Keller needs to return, the receivers and tight ends have to get open, beat press coverage and hold onto the ball more, the offensive line needs to give Sanchez more time and Sanchez needs to play better. He’s made some big strides in his certain areas of his play, but is still making some of the same classic Sanchez mistakes.

All of this must improve if the Jets offense wants to pick up the slack for the defense, down arguably the best player in football, but the biggest problem holding this offense back has been the down right pitiful rushing attack. It appears maybe a change should be in order.

A very large portion of this fan base gave up on Greene a long time ago, others steadfastly argued it’s not that Greene is bad, it’s just that he’s not even close to being great. He’s not an exceptional back who can make things happen on his own. If there is a lane, Greene will get productive yards, but no he’s not likely to break one for 70 or turn a two yard gain into a 13 yard gain by making a few guys miss and therein lies the rub.

Shonn Greene continues to struggle to find room to run behind a poor run blocking offensive line. Is it time to try a change by getting Bilal Powell and or Joe McKnight more touches? (Jetsinsider.com Photo)

As much as everyone wants to put it all on Greene, understandable because it’s easier to think the problem is just one person instead of multiple people, the offensive line is not doing him any favors. Greene needs space and the line isn’t giving him any. Greene can be an effective, not great but effective enough, back behind the right offensive line, but he simply can’t be an effective number one back in this offense, not at this time. That much has to be clear to everyone with functioning eyes.

If the offensive line can’t create big enough running lanes then a change has to be made. The Jets running game has stalled, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and try something different and that’s starts with starting Bilal Powell and using him and Joe McKnight more early on and bring in Greene as the closer to run over defenses when they are tired and he does his most damage.

When Ryan was asked if a change like this was possible he said, “That’s certainly a possibility that we’ll look into.” Before answering a follow-up question by backtracking a bit, “It’s possible. We’ll look at anything we think can help our team. Has that been discussed? No. Every week we look at things, how we approach different opponents and things like that. I haven’t seen one tape on San Francisco yet. Anything we think can help, if it’s the Wildcat, (or anything else), we will look at all possibilities going into a game. Is that going to happen? I don’t know, but we will look at everything.”

Both Powell and McKnight offer more explosiveness as a runner and they have the ability to make plays on their own. Running behind a line struggling to open holes, only backs that make defenders miss have a chance to be productive. It’s time to find out if either of these guys can help the offense and they both need a lot more touches to show and prove.

The problems of the offensive line in the running game really revolve around two players, Matt Slauson and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, struggling and two other players, Brandon Moore and Austin Howard, tossing out average grades through the first three weeks. Nick Mangold has been excellent as usual, in both pass protection and run blocking, but better in run blocking.

According to the good people at www.ProFootballFocus.com, through the first three weeks, Mangold has earned an overall grade of +7.2, +5.0 for run blocking and +2.5 for pass protection, if only the rest of the lines grades looked like that this team would have no issues running the ball. Moore turned in a +0.5 overall performance, -0.1 for run blocking and +0.6 in pass protection. Howard has an ugly -6.8 overall grade (all from the Miami grade where he had that exact grade, he graded at 0.0 overall through the first two weeks, but also struggled in pass protection against Pittsburgh), most of that due to pass protection. Howard earned a 1.0 against Buffalo, -3.1 against Pittsburgh and -5.0 against Miami in pass protection, and turned in a -0.4, 1.6 and -1.4 in run blocking respectively earning him an overall run grade of -0.2.

Mangold’s grades are great, Moore and Howard not so much, but not crippling. Ferguson and Slauson are a different story. Ferguson has rebounded nicely from last season in pass protection (+4.4 overall grade), but is also continuing his tradition of being a poor run blocker turning in a -2.7 performance. Slauson has it even worse as he earned an overall run blocking grade of -4.6, granted most of that came against Buffalo’s Kyle Williams (-3.3), but he also graded out to -1.9 in Miami.

It’s easier to think the problem is just Greene, but it’s not easier to actually fix the problem by thinking that way. This is how it’s most likely going to be for the Jets offensive line this year, no reason to think they’ll all of a sudden start blowing up defensive lines and creating carpool size lanes for Greene to run through. It’s time to try a different approach at running back.

Through three games Greene has 52 rushes for a paltry 157 yards, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Pro Football Focus has Greene graded -6.2 overall, -0.7 in receiving, -0.3 in pass protection and a failing grade of -4.3 doing the one thing a running back needs to do well, run the ball. No good can come out of keeping this running back rotation the same and Powell’s numbers and grades look a bit more promising.

On 22 carries Powell has 88 yards (more than half of Greene’s total yards on less than half the touches) for a 4.0 yards per carry and he has three receptions for 40 yards, a 13.3 yard per catch average. Powell did not have a good day against the Dolphins front seven, grading out to -1.8 overall, but -1.1 of that was in pass protection dealing with the Dolphins pass rush -0.3 as a receiver and -0.4 as a runner. Against Pittsburgh, when he got more touches with Greene hurt, Powell had a +0.9 overall grade and +0.8 of that as a runner (Bills game +0.5 overall but only in for 19 snaps). Hardly earth shattering numbers, but again it’s his ability to potentially make defenders miss that makes him and McKnight a better fit for this offense.

McKnight only has a run grade of -0.1, but he’s only played seven snaps on offense and has zero receptions. That’s lunacy. If they don’t want to use McKnight at running back outside of the Tebow-option than they should at least use him in the passing game. Otherwise one of the most explosive runners on the team is just rotting away on the bench. Use him split out as a receiver, certainly has to be a better option that Cylde Gates, or maybe try the novel idea of running some screen plays for both McKnight and Powell.

If you’re familiar with Pro Football Focus’ premium stats you know the offensive line grades consist of grades for screen plays, but they weren’t included in this article because it’s nothing but zeros across the board. Screens loosen up the defense, open up lanes for receivers and helps with the running game. To struggle on offense two straight weeks and still avoid attempting simple screen passes against aggressive defenses is pretty baffling.

We don’t know what type of backs Powell and McKnight can be. Or if they can even be any good at all, but this is Greene’s fourth season, we know exactly what type of runner he is. That’s a back that’s simply not a good enough runner or fit to be productive in this offense and it’s for that reason a change is in order.

Breaking News: The Jets have signed running back Jonathan Grimes from the Texans practice squad, this could be bad news for Joe McKnight or it could be for depth purposes. The Jets also brought in cornerback Chris Carr for a workout looking to add depth at corner in Revis’ absence.

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