FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The last time Rex Ryan's Jets broke in a rookie quarterback, the organizational mantra was "Ground and Pound.'' Against all odds, that approach took Mark Sanchez and the Jets to two straight AFC Championship Games.
But that was under former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who was more conservative by nature. Now, Ryan's OC is Marty Mornhinweg, a devotee of the West Coast offense, and the rookie quarterback is Geno Smith, who has a stronger arm than Sanchez and speed to escape the pass rush.
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Those physical gifts were on display as Smith led a last-minute comeback victory over Tampa Bay in the opener, and his lack of experience was exposed in a three-interception fourth quarter the following week at New England. So, the question heading into Week 3 against Buffalo on Sunday at MetLife Stadium is one of balance.
The Jets have run 61 times compared with 83 pass plays, including nine sacks. It's not exactly "Chuck and Duck,'' as Ryan's father, Buddy, a former coach, derisively called some of the NFL's pass-happy offenses of the past, but even Mornhinweg admitted Thursday that "balance'' is a concept he's only now embracing.
Reflecting on the New England loss, Mornhinweg said, "I thought we were pretty balanced throughout the game on purpose for many different reasons. Look, this is more than I've ever run the ball as far as numbers-wise. We're in attempts rushing. We're running the ball quite a little bit more, and there's several different reasons for that.
"Certainly a rookie quarterback is one of them . . . You saw, shoot, I ran the ball on third-and-7. I haven't done that in I can't remember how long.''
In the opener, Smith scrambled for 47 yards to outrush the combined 44 yards of running backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. But at New England, Powell and Ivory totaled 100 yards rushing to 17 for Smith. It was an encouraging development, and that trend is likely to continue against Buffalo, if only to slow a pass rush featuring Mario Williams.
Ryan said he prefers a more balanced attack, but he expressed support for Mornhinweg's play-calling and Smith's ability to execute the passing game. "I'm confident in Geno,'' Ryan said, "so to me, there really are no restrictions.''
Thanks to four interceptions and a 53.4 completion percentage, Smith's 55.2 quarterback rating is a lowly 32nd in the NFL. Mornhinweg and Ryan point to the drops by receivers as a mitigating factor along with injuries to some skill players and ill-advised throws while trying to come back against the Patriots.
"I will tell you, he has great poise,'' Mornhinweg said of Smith. "He's way ahead of the game in many ways. However, the other fellas have to just jack their game up, including me. All of us can help just a little bit.
"I'm learning a lot about Geno as we go, and I'm learning about all the players as we go. That big ol' line is something we can sort of rely on week after week after week.''