Time for Jets to make run for it

New York Jets running back Shonn Greene (23)

New York Jets running back Shonn Greene (23) runs away from Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith (94) during the third quarter. (Nov. 21, 2010) (Credit: AP)

Bob Glauber

Newsday columnist Bob Glauber Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He

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Plenty of attention has been paid to the late-season problems experienced by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was so overwhelmed in last Monday night's 45-3 demolition in New England that Rex Ryan sat him down for a private chat in advance of today's game against the Dolphins.

All of which is fine, because a 24-year-old quarterback in only his second season can use all the help he can get in handling his job. Sanchez needs plenty more nurturing, and Ryan's deft handling of the former first-round pick has been commendable. After all, a trip to the AFC Championship Game last season and a 9-3 record in Year 2 are worthy accomplishments.

But if Ryan really wants to help his struggling young quarterback, who has 11 interceptions in his last seven games after not throwing any in his first five, he'll start to take the ball out of Sanchez's hands a bit more.

Not out of fear that Sanchez has lost his confidence - which, by all outward appearances, he has not - but because the Jets' offense at its core should be as much about the running game as the passing game.

In fact, with the weather getting nasty and the Jets facing a month's worth of outdoor games to finish off the season, it is time to insulate the offense from the elements by putting the load on the running backs and the offensive line.

Somewhere along the way, the Jets have strayed from Ryan's preferred method of moving the ball, an approach he likes to call the "ground and pound." Ryan's tenets of playing good defense - particularly against the run - and running the ball on offense offer a sound fundamental approach. Especially when the elements become a factor.

And with games against the Dolphins Sunday, then in Pittsburgh and Chicago before a season-ending game at home against Buffalo, now is the time for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to get back to the style that can make the Jets a more formidable team. Not only that, but it takes some of the heat off Sanchez, who comes off a three-interception downer against the Patriots.

Enter LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene.

And five big linemen named Ferguson, Slauson, Mangold, Moore and Woody leading the way.

"We're going to have to run the football and we'll have to run it successfully," Tomlinson said. "We definitely want to be able to let the run game set up our passing game. We want to be an all-weather football team, being able to run and pass it."

But first comes the running game. If it works, it makes the passing game that much easier. Run well on first and second downs and you avoid the dreaded third-and-longs the Jets have struggled with in recent weeks. Run well, and Sanchez can use the threat of the play-action passing game to his advantage. Run well, and you keep the other team off the field.

Tomlinson certainly is familiar with getting in gear at this time of year. Consider: Since 2005, Tomlinson leads the NFL in rushing yards in December and January regular-season games with 2,243 yards. Throw in the fact that this was the time of year Greene began to emerge as the Jets' feature back in 2009, and you've got the perfect spot to return to the run.

"With me and L.T. going back and forth, it keeps both of us fresh and it keeps the defense off balance," Greene said. "The more carries you accumulate as the season goes on, the more all-weather offense we can get."

Of course, there's no reason to run to the complete exclusion of the pass; in fact, Sanchez generally has done well against the Dolphins' secondary.

"I think we've had some success throwing the football against Miami, so it'll probably be similar to how we've been playing," Ryan said. "It's more balanced, but again, I always like to be able to run the ball."

The Jets are fourth in the NFL in rushing, averaging 148.4 yards per game, and Tomlinson and Greene are healthy going down the stretch. They started to get it going against the Patriots, but with the Jets down 24-3 by halftime, Sanchez was forced to air it out. The results were not encouraging.

No question Sanchez needs to protect the football better. But there's also no doubt the Jets need to show more offensive balance and begin tilting the play-calling back to the running game.

It's December in the NFL, time for Ryan to get back to his roots.

Time to get back to the "ground and pound."

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