By Kristian Dyer
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It wasn’t pretty and there is very little white left on the fingernails of most Jets fans, but if one thing emerged from Sunday’s 28-24 nail biter of a win over Buffalo, it was the team’s identity. Or at the very least, what the team’s identity should be.
Much will be made of quarterback Mark Sanchez’s four touchdown performance, a career high. It could be called a lucky win even, gifted by the fall from grace of Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson who let what would have been a game-winning touchdown slip through his fingers with a minute left in the fourth quarter. And there’s something to the talk that this team plays well with its back to the wall, showing resilience and character in yet another “must-win” game.
But with all that being said, what emerged from the comeback win is that this Jets team is beginning again with a “Ground & Pound” philosophy.
Lost amid the aforementioned four passing touchdowns by Sanchez was that the Jets ground game was effective and helped keep the chains moving, allowing the offense to take shots down the field. Because the Bills had to put seven or eight players in the box to stem the running attack, opportunities were present downfield, even if the Jets failed to capitalize on them.
All told, Shonn Greene rushed 13 times for 78 yards, his six yards per carry a season high. And credit to Joe McKnight who filled in for the injured LaDainian Tomlinson with a quiet but effective four carries for 21 yards. The Jets even utilized wide receiver Santonio Holmes effectively on some end runs in a bit of “trickeration” – all plays that kept the Bills defense guessing and keyed in on stopping the run.
This isn’t a new strategy for the Jets and one that they too quickly abandoned this year.
Two years ago in Rex Ryan’s first season as head coach, the Jets had the best rushing attack in the league, averaging 172.2 yards per game. Last year, they dipped to fourth best though they were more than effective to the tune of 148.4 yards per game. This season, they are 24th in the league in rushing as the offensive line has struggled to create holes for the running backs and the team has turned into a pass-heavy attack, especially when they fall behind early in games.
But if the Jets want to improve to 7-5 this weekend in Washington, they will need more of the ground game.
This is a Redskins team that is in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed and is susceptible to getting physically pushed around and mauled by teams willing to commit to the run. And the fact that Sanchez, despite his record setting day, still completed just 17 of his 35 passes is a testament to the fact that he can’t carry the team and that the ground game is vital for moving the ball down the field.
What all this means is that the Jets showed a glimpse of their blueprint for success on Sunday afternoon and what can carry them to the playoffs if they remain committed to being a ground team. The offense can be effective if and when Greene gets going between the tackles, putting his head down and plowing forward for yards. It wasn’t flashy with a lot of dazzle – just a lot of good downhill running from a player Ryan called this past August his “bell cow.”
And if the Jets hope to make the playoffs this year, it looks an awful lot like they will need more “bell cow.”
Kristian R. Dyer contributes to WFAN.com and covers the Jets beat for Metro New York. He also writes for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him at twitter.com/KristianRDyer
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