By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBS 2) — While most of the media attention Monday was rightfully focused on the breakout performance of LaDainian Tomlinson in his new uniform, there was an effort from another running back up in Buffalo that may have proven to be the beginning of something even more important for the Jets.
Shonn Greene, at least for now, appears to be back.
The second-year tailback’s slow start was well documented. With so much expected of him following last season’s exceptional showing in the playoffs and his subsequent inheritance of the featured back role, Greene started the 2010 season with a thud. He was horrendous in the season-opening loss to Baltimore, registering just 18 rushing yards, two fumbles and a glaring lack of concentration that ultimately manifested itself on a dropped screen pass that led to his benching midway through the defeat.
The effort and focus were better in the wins over New England and Miami, but the touches were less than anticipated. Greene amassed 88 yards on 25 carries in the two games, but he was still largely overlooked by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
People started to wonder if Greene had lost the confidence of the coaches and was destined to spell Tomlinson, not the other way around as was the original plan. Remember, this was a guy given the starting job while the Jets were still negotiating with Thomas Jones, who was coming off a 1,400-yard season.
Maybe the awful Bills were exactly what Greene needed to see. He certainly took advantage on Sunday, slamming through the Buffalo defense for 117 yards on 22 carries in the Jets’ eventual 38-14 victory. The trademark Greene style — head on a swivel, shoulders square, deceptive speed and moves — was on full display as he punished the Bills, helped move the chains and took a ton of pressure off quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Greene and Tomlinson combined for 250 yards on the ground, 24 more than the entire Bills offense. The question now becomes was Sunday a sign of things to come for the Jets’ ground and pound rushing offense? Or was it just an example of a superior pair of backs and offensive line imposing their will on a terrible defensive football team?
We’ll find out a little more next Monday night when the 3-1 Jets host the Minnesota Vikings, a team allowing 87 rushing yards per game and 3.6 per carry.
The idea coming into this season was to have Greene and Tomlinson mask the development of Sanchez, but now, with the second-year signal-caller clearly coming into his own, the Jets’ running game is in a position to complement what is fast-becoming a very efficient passing game. Sanchez hasn’t turned the ball over in four games and has eight touchdown passes. You combine his growing maturity with a two-pronged rushing attack like the Jets have and there’s no telling where this team will ultimately end up — though the notion of still playing in February does come to mind.
Greene continuing to do what he showed Sunday will only add to the festivities. As great as Tomlinson has been — 341 yards rushing, 6.1 ypc, 12 receptions, 3 total TDs — the Jets still shouldn’t feel forced to feed him 25 times per game. LT must still be viewed as a much more dangerous change-of-pace option and receiver out of the backfield. Yes, Tomlinson appears to be ageless and his 31 years might as well be 25, but Rex Ryan and Schottenheimer want him fresh for December, a time of year that has often been very cruel to the Jets.
Imagine what Greene at full force could mean for an offense that is already developing faster than many expected. The Jets have scored 97 points over the last three weeks. They have scored at least 28 in that span after only reaching that number three times all of last season.
Tomlinson has become the flashy aspect of this much-improved unit, the man who plays every down with something to prove. Sanchez, unbelievably, is the steady element, the guy who is making all the right decisions at the right times. Tight end Dustin Keller is now “Mr. Old Reliable,” the player showing the world he’s coming into his own. Braylon Edwards has proven to be a true No. 1 receiver, and with Santonio Holmes returning against the Vikings the Jets’ passing game may just go from efficient to uncontrollable.
Greene running the way he did Sunday will add another needed dimension — the guy who brings the pain.
Jets Nation has reinforced the “War Machine” moniker — a nickname first thought up by the fans at Greene’s alma mater, Iowa — knowing full well he could ultimately provide the knockout blow each and every week with his punishing style. I’d like to believe Greene is actually the team’s “Iron Man,” the protector of the masses, the football and the killer of the clock. However he lost the right to don the hot rod red and gold suit, albeit perhaps momentarily, and until he puts forth more efforts like what we saw Sunday will have to settle for sidekick status.
However, when Greene is bouncing off tacklers and needing three guys (or more) to bring him down it can only mean the chains are moving and the clock is ticking. In a sense, when he’s going right he should be the Jets’ closer. Give him the ball, especially with a lead, and it should be money in the bank.
Now we just need to see it more consistently, because when Greene truly shows up for battle the war is that much closer to being won.
And the Jets’ machine should be well on its way toward taking another step in the direction of Dallas — its expected final destination.