Through the first two weeks of this season, the Jets rushing attack appeared destined for great things.
A 30-year-old Matt Forte joined the squad as Chris Ivory’s replacement and was proving ageists wrong with his smooth running and versatility out of the backfield. A new-look offensive line with different starters at both left and right tackle didn’t skip a beat. Much like in 2015, it appeared as though Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets’ offense would have the benefit of a stout ground game to build a game plan around, opening up passing plays downfield with play action.
But the opposite happened. In each of the past three games, all losses for the 1-4 Jets, the running game has pulled a disappearing act, particularly in the second half. And it’s one of the more concerning trends for Gang Green as they head to Arizona for a Monday night showdown with the Cardinals.
The Jets combined for 35 rushing attempts in the second halves of the first two games of 2016. In the last three weeks, they’ve averaged just seven carries over the final two quarters. And in each of the past two games, losses to the Seahawks and Steelers, the Jets rushed the ball just five times in the second half.
Granted, the Jets have been trailing at the start of the third quarter in each of their past three games, including against the Chiefs in Week 3. Both offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and head coach Todd Bowles pointed to that fact as the reason behind their abandonment of the run game down the stretch of these contests.
“I don’t think so,” Gailey said this week, when asked if the Jets have deserted the run game too quickly over the past three weeks. “You can always look back and say, ‘Hey, maybe we should’ve done this, maybe we should’ve done that.’ If you’re not having success at something, sometimes you say, ‘Well, let’s try something else.’ And when you haven’t been as successful as we’d like from time to time, then you try some other things.
“I’d like to stick with it a little bit better and like to be able to run it a little bit better, but that comes down to execution and that’s what it all boils down to when you get back to it. Everything is about execution.”
Matt Forte and the Jets haven’t been able to get the running game going lately.
(Justin K. Aller)
A closer look at the scores, however, shows that play calling and decision-making are also likely factors. In the losses to the Seahawks and Steelers, the Jets were within one score for the entire third quarter and entering the fourth quarter. So the deficits don’t seem large enough to justify only five rushing attempts over the final 30 minutes of action.
“I don’t really worry about what plays are called or whether it’s a run or a pass. I go with the flow of the game,” Forte said. “Our offensive coordinator, he’s in the NFL for a reason: because he’s good and he knows what to do. Whatever play call is called, I’m going to run it.”
Bowles offered another explanation: That teams are stacking the box to force Fitzpatrick to beat them in the air. It’s not a bad strategy considering the gunslinger’s propensity for throwing the ball to players in the wrong jerseys. Despite an interception-free day in Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick still leads the NFL with 10 picks.
Forte noticed opposing defenses putting more bodies closer to the line of scrimmage after the Jets’ loss to the Bengals, during which the former Bear rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries.
“A lot of teams do that,” said Forte, who’s averaging 48.3 yards per game over his last three contests. “They want to make you beat them throwing the ball rather than running it.”
In addition, Bowles admitted the run blocking has not been good enough.
“We have to open more holes for him,” Bowles said, when asked about Forte’s sudden decline. “We have to find ways to get him open. Eventually, we have to be able to run the football.”
Forte said the main reason for the poor second-half production from the running backs is a lack of energy from the entire offense. That’s led to a number of three-and-outs, which provide fewer opportunities to try and kick-start the floundering ground attack as games wind down.
Against the Steelers, the Jets went three-and-out in three of their four third-quarter drives.
“We’re in these games all the way through the first half…and then we go through kind of lull and there’s no energy out there,” Forte said. “We need to step it up.”
If the Jets hope to climb their way out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, they’ll need to find a way to revitalize their once-promising running game.
“(When) some plays don’t work, you get criticized,” Bowles said. “If things work, you don’t say anything. But we’re 1-4. So we have to find different ways to win.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News