Running a Hot Trend in the NFL

If you want to question Thomas Jones’ importance to the Jets this season, think again.

As the start of the 2008 NFL season crept closer, Brett Favre and his legendary throwing cannon was certain to determine the fate of the New York Jets. In a league where most franchises only go as far as their quarterbacks can take them, the Jets would be riding on the future Hall of Famer’s back whether they liked it or not. For years they watched how an injury-prone quarterback with a nimble throwing arm could debilitate an offense but Favre entered to wipe away those painful images. While the Jets beefed up their talent pool by adding seven-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and a breakout star at linebacker in Calvin Pace, the Jets learned that one of their strongest keys to their transformation already sat right in their lap. Jones joined the Jets in March 2007, traded from the Chicago Bears in exchange for the 37th overall pick in that year’s draft. After two breakout seasons with the Bears which in which Jones rushed for 1,335 yards and 1,210 yards respectively, the addition of Jones was certain to bolster a Jets’ running back core that was left empty after the departure of Curtis Martin. Jones delivered 1,119 rushing yards (10th in NFL) but only two total touchdowns. His numbers shouted success, but he had perhaps as quiet a 1,000 yard season as a running back could have.

However, now as the Jets sit a victory over the rival Patriots shy of first-place in the AFC East, Jones can take credit for the Jets’ soaring success. Through ten weeks, Jones currently leads the AFC and sits fifth in the NFL in rushing with 750 yards on 160 carries (4.7 avg.), more than the likes of heralded stars LaDainian Tomlinson (629 yards) and Marshawn Lynch (512 yards). His eight touchdowns ranks fourth out of AFC running backs, behind Lendale White (11 touchdowns), Ronnie Brown (nine) and Maurice Jones-Drew (nine). While Jones’ standout season may not serve as a surprise, the fashion in which he has reached such numbers has.

After Jones opened the season with 101 yards and one touchdown in a win over the Dolphins, the Jets’ running back hit a mini-slump. In losses to the Patriots and Chargers and a victory over the Cardinals, Jones’ totals read 70 yards, 37, 46 respectively. He did not reach the endzone over the three-game strech and was limited to only ten carries against the Chargers after losing a fumble early in the first half. With the addition of three-time Pro Bowl fullback Tony Richardson and a revamped offensive line, it became time to why Jones seemed so harnassed to provide consistent efforts. However Jones luck changed in an Oct. 12 win over the Bengals, in which he rushed for only 65 yards but added three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). In the four weeks following that breakout Sunday, Jones has totaled 431 yards and five touchdowns. Not surprisingly, the Jets are 3-1 in those four games.

It’s easy to credit Favre’s presence for the Jets’ turnaround, but Jones’ efforts cannot be ignored. In recent weeks, the Jets are winning not on Favre’s arm, but on a consistent running game, a stout run defense and some gamebreaking plays from the defense. In surveying the league this season, that appears to be the groundwork for success. The NFL’s top two teams, the Titans (9-0) and Giants (8-1) aren’t winning on a weekly air assault but with a pounding running game and a consistent defense. The league often moves in streaks and this season’s playoff contenders have carried the same approach. It was the same smashmouth style that brought the Giants home the Super Bowl last year. While quarterback Eli Manning made few mistakes (one interception) throughout the postseason run, it was the trio of running backs Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw that wore down defenses for 60 minutes. I’m not saying the Jets need to turn Favre into a game manager, but the Jets’ fate this season will rest heavily on Jones and their run defense. The Jets’ running game ranks ninth in the NFL (123.4 yards/game) while their run defense ranks fifth overall (76.4 yards allowed/game). Interestingly, but not coincidentally, nine out of the top ten running teams in the NFL hold winning records, while all ten of the top run defenses hold winning records.

Top Run Offenses in 2008:

1. Giants (8-1) (168.9 yards)

2. Falcons (6-3) (157.8)

3. Ravens (6-3) (150.2)

4. Redskins (6-3) (144.7)

5. Vikings (5-4) (144.0)

6. Titans (9-0) (134.8)

7. Patriots (6-3) (133.0)

8. Raiders (2-7) (124.3) (This team really sticks out like a sore thumb, doesn’t it?)

9. Jets (6-3) (123.4)

10. Panthers (7-2) (119.2)

 

Top Run Defenses in 2008

1. Ravens (6-3) (65.4 yards allowed/game)

2. Steelers (6-3) (69.2)

3. Bears (5-4) (74.9)

4. Vikings (5-4) (70.1)

5. Jets (6-3) (76.4)

6. Redskins (6-3) (80.7)

7. Giants (8-1) (87.7)

8. Titans (9-0) (90.1)

9. Cardinals (6-3) (92.0)

10. Dolphins (5-4) (93.7)

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