New York Jets running back Breece Hall (20) is tackled...

New York Jets running back Breece Hall (20) is tackled by the Atlanta Falcons during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger) Credit: Adam Hunger

Florham Park, N.J. – Deep in their big green hearts the Jets always knew that Zach Wilson wasn’t going to be a positive difference-maker for them this season. If they had any faith in him at all they would not have poured so many resources into acquiring Aaron Rodgers and building the rest of the roster around him. They would not have come away from last year thinking they were a quarterback away from contending for a championship.

Once Rodgers was injured after the first four snaps of the season they were forced to once again turn to Wilson. And this week, after benching him two weeks ago, they are once again publicly embracing Wilson and the potential that he has yet to demonstrate during his nearly three full seasons in New York. He may be the healthy quarterback who gives them the best chance to win on Sunday, as has been stated repeatedly, but the unsaid acknowledgment is that “best chance” doesn’t necessarily mean good chance. Or any chance, really.

It should be no true surprise to anyone, then, that the atrocious production which has come from the most important position on any team has sunk the entire Jets’ offense to historically low numbers.

But the awful display of throwing the football that the Jets have demonstrated this season has overshadowed a much more significant and unanticipated problem. The Jets can’t run the ball, either.

Disappointment by definition is “caused by the nonfulfillment of hopes or expectations.” It’s hard to say quarterbacking has been a disappointment when it’s actually meeting the level most expected it to settle in at. The running game, on the other hand, fits that word perfectly.

They are fourth-worst in the NFL with just 90.8 rushing yards per game. Breece Hall leads the team with just 585 of those yards (304 of them coming in two games) and after averaging 5.8 yards per carry as a rookie he is down to 4.3. Wilson is second on the team with 199 rushing yards, just two ahead of Dalvin Cook.

Quarterback play remains the biggest vacuum for this current roster until Rodgers comes back, which is seeming more and more like next season with each passing hour. It is rightly the position that draws the most headlines and radio call-ins and all the snickering and potshots that have come the Jets’ way.

But the running game has been a bigger and more accurate disappointment, even if it has somehow managed to do so the way it has played for most of this year: Quietly.

Where has the ground attack gone?

“I don’t know,” Hall said on Thursday, clearly frustrated. “It’s been the same thing every week. Y’all can turn on the film and watch it yourselves. I don’t know what to tell you. I try week after week to get better. That’s all I can do.”

Hall hasn’t had a run of more than 14 yards since Week 5 when he had what felt like a comeback party against the Broncos that included a 72-yard touchdown. Since then he’s had just three runs that have gone for 10 or more yards (although he has two pass receptions for 35 or more).

Cook, at least, had an answer to the question.

“Commitment,” he said. “We need commitment and sticking with it. Find our rhythm early and run with it. As runners we can help our linemen find confidence out there, too, break some tackles, do some things that’ll get us going. But we have to find rhythm early.”

It seemed as if they were doing that last week against the Falcons. They even had Cook in the mix after having him as a $7 million afterthought for most of this season. He wound up with nine carries, which doesn’t sound like a lot but was the most he’s had since the opener when Hall was on a “pitch count” in his first game back from ACL surgery.

“We got into a groove when we were converting on some third downs, we were getting some good plays,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “Dalvin did a great job. Breece did.”

And then… they didn’t.

“After that, we put ourselves in a little bit of a pinch getting, I think we had like, four false starts,” Hackett said. “Those are the things that we have to get out of there.”

Big picture, Hackett blamed the lack of running production on lack of chemistry and experience. And a lack of chances. The Jets, who often find themselves playing from behind and saddled by three-and-outs, have a league-low 251 carries (which includes the 38 by the quarterbacks).

“It’s about those banked reps,” Hackett said. “We’re a young team. There’s a couple young guys on the offensive line. New guys here and there. So, I think they’ve just got to continually get the reps, continually understand the looks… We just have to keep on pushing it and keep on repping it.”

Cook hasn’t been shy over how miffed he is with the way he’s been used this season. He came here to play with Rodgers and pair up with Hall and by the second week of the season it was clear neither of those things was going to happen.

“I know who I am as a player in this league,” the four-time 1,000-yard rusher said. “Just looking for an opportunity.”

Cook also knows that a running game can be the salvation for a team that has been in the kind of quarterback flux the Jets have been trying to push through all season.

“We can help out a lot,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we have to carry the whole offense, but we can make life easy on the guy who is behind the center. That’s our job.”

It should never have been Wilson who replaced Rodgers as the centerpiece of the offense. He was not equipped for that challenge and everyone knew that. It should have been the running game that replaced the passing mentality after Rodgers’ injury.

For whatever reason, the Jets were never able to do that.

So very disappointing.

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