Jets RB Thomas Jones has flexed little muscle on the gridiron so far this year. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
All of the buzz surrounding the Jets offensive problems has been QB Chad Pennington and the passing game. People stress Pennington’s inability to throw the ball down field, his mental mistakes the past two weeks and the idea that his backup, QB Kellen Clemens, may give New York a better chance to win.
A passing attack cannot come to any sort of fruition without a succinct running game to set it up. Thus, with RBs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington putting up floor-level yards per rush averages, perhaps the root of the offensive struggle is on the ground.
Take a look at some of Jones’ and Washington’s numbers this year compared to their NFL careers. Outside of Week 3 against Miami, Jones has failed to average more than three yards per carry in any of the three games; his previous two years in Chicago, he averaged over four yards per rush.
Washington is even more of a conundrum. While his prowess on the return game has placed him atop the NFL alongside the likes of Bears kick return-extraordinaire Devin Hester, he is shockingly averaging only 2.3 yards per attempt on the ground; not the numbers expected from a big-play running back.
“It is one of those things that me and Thomas are working hard on with the offensive line,” Washington said. “We’re working hard to improve our continuity, and it’s something we have to work on, and eventually if we keep working on it and get better at it, we should turn it around.”
While the two of been very slow out of the gates, coach Eric Mangini still feels advancements are being made in some aspects of the game.
“In certain areas there’s been definitely progress, in other areas we continue to work on,” Mangini said. “What’s so important offensively and defensively is to build on progress, where you don’t want to have a successful run, and next week it isn’t as successful.”
The issue is that the progress has yet to show itself. Jones was brought into New York to be a feature back, lightening the load on Washington and, presumably, Pennington. However, with the offensive line struggling, the tandem has yet to be able to hit a groove during any games, enabling the opposition to be more aggressive in their pass protection.
The upcoming came with the Eagles will be a test of the Jets’ ability to aim to utilize the run more effectively. Philadelphia’s secondary is notorious for its bruising strength and hard-hitting mantra; thus, it would be beneficial to Gang Green to force the Eagles’ defensive backs to have to stay back in coverage and not clog the box, putting more pressure on Pennington and making the rush even less effective.
New York will look to get out to a fast start on the ground this week against the Eagles. Big rushes will be essential early on to help Jones and Washington—each notorious for needing a few carries to hit their stride—get going. If the rush is effective, the Jets could be looking at a win over a solid NFC East team.
Tackling stressed at practice
After a few glaring tackling mistakes against the Giants last week, Mangini has stressed tackling drills in this week’s practices.
“You’re always open to emphasize more fundamentals,” Mangini said. “You’re just trying to […] emphasize areas where you can improve and make strides.
The coach noted, however, that the drills are not as effective as the coaching staff may hope, as when DE Shaun Ellis is faced against NT Sione Pouha acting as a running back, it is not necessarily indicative as a game time scenario.
Regarding today’s practice, P Ben Graham booted a couple of 65-plus yard punts. One of the return men was actually Ellis—perhaps the most out of place sight ever witnessed at Jets camp. It appears doubtful the big defensive lineman will get any work against the Eagles after he muffed his only ball.
Owner Woody Johnson was also around very briefly in the locker room donning his usual attire: a suit and a Jets cap.
Coleman coming along
About two weeks removed from his concussion, Mangini noted that S Erik Coleman is coming along. He has been meeting with doctors and seen limited time in practice. No indication of Coleman’s status for this week’s game was given during the press conference.
Smith impresses everyone
Mangini continued to note how awe-stricken he is by utility man Brad Smith’s ability to pick up any facet of the game in seemingly no time at all.
“He’s doing a really outstanding job,” Mangini said. “As he gets more comfortable running the route, […] getting the feel for the way defensive backs come to the line of scrimmage, […] he processes that and builds on it, and starts getting more production.”
Smith was all smiles in the locker room after the press conference, admitting that he does have a knack for learning football material pretty easily. The team’s third wide receiver did admit he has had some soreness this year though, albeit begrudgingly.
“Everything’s sore right now,” Smith said. “Starting last year, it was might first year, all the running I was doing I was still getting used to it. It’s really just a whole different type of job playing receiver, and I have even more respect now for the guys that played the position in college and in here.”
As for the block he made to lead Washington to his touchdown return on Sunday, Smith seemed like he felt lucky just to have executed his role as Washington’s first blocker.
“My big thing is to be a good teammate, and the best I could do out there was open a hole for Leon,” Smith said. “I don’t have the greatest technique or anything like that, I just stuck my head down to try to get him through.”
Smith’s touchdown reception last week was his first career touchdown.
McCareins not phased out
While Smith may have been seeing much more playing time than WR Justin McCareins since the Baltimore Ravens game, Mangini refused to admit that it had anything to do with McCareins being phased out in favor of the former Missouri quarterback.
“Sometimes it just works out where you get the coverage as if you are the primary wide receiver,” Mangini said. “One receiver has 10 balls the other guy has two, next week it just skews back the other way.”
Two years after receiving for 713 yards, McCareins has only three catches this year for 31 yards, including no catches in the past two weeks.
Injury Report (as of 10/10/07)
New York Jets
Full participation in practice
FB Darian Barnes (thigh), TE Jason Pociask (back)
Limited participation in practice
T Anthony Clement (thigh), S Erik Coleman (concussion), WR Laveranues Coles (knee), DE Shaun Ellis (foot), WR Justin McCareins (ankle), QB Chad Pennington (ankle), DT Dewayne Robertson (knee), S Eric Smith (thigh)
Full participation in practice
CB Lito Sheppard (knee), TE L.J. Smith (hernia), RB Brian Westbrook (abdomen)
Limited participation in practice
WR Greg Lewis (ankle)
Did not participate in practice
S Brian Dawkins (neck), G Todd Herremans (knee), T William Thomas (knee)