All it took for the Jets to establish their running game was for Matt Forte to say something.
The 10-year running back hadn’t started the previous three games but there he was on Thursday night against the Bills, starting and helping his team get the run game established.
In the previous three games, Forte came off the bench as Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire started.
It was an interesting decision to start Forte, given his comments of last week, in which he said the Jets should be running more often.
They did Thursday night and it was working exceptionally well. Forte scored his first touchdown of the season on a 10-yard run to give the Jets a 24-7 lead in the third quarter. Powell broke off a 51-yard run on the previous play.
The Jets established the run early. After two first-quarter possessions, they had 50 yards rushing and a 7-0 lead thanks to the running game. With the Jets using a combination of the three running backs, Forte gained 2 yards up the middle on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage. McGuire relieved him and picked up 5 yards on a pitch to the left and Powell gained 2 yards on a third-and-three, resulting in a punt.
But on a Jets’ scoring drive, their second possession of the game, Powell gained 7 yards on a draw, quarterback Josh McCown scrambled for a 6-yard run and then with the Jets in Bills’ territory, Forte broke a tackle for a 13-yard gain. McCown picked up his team-leading third rushing touchdown of the season as he scrambled from 10 yards to give the Jets a 7-0 lead.
These are the type of running plays that were lacking in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons.
Forte said the Jets should have stayed with the running game after building a lead. The Jets eventually lost to the Falcons, 25-20, and after the game, Forte expressed some disappointment with offensive coordinator John Morton’s lack of run plays.
Forte said the run game was needed because in a driving rainstorm it’s easier to move the ball on the ground than it is in the air. The Jets totaled only 43 rushing yards on 22 carries in the loss.
Forte wanted the Jets to stick with the run even it i wasn’t working. He cited the Falcons’ Tevin Coleman getting a 52-yard run after Atlanta was struggling earlier on the ground. The Falcons totaled 140 rushing yards on 32 carries. In two other games played in the rain last weekend, the winning teams were the Patriots and Cowboys, both of whom made strong commitments to the running attack.
After Forte made his concerns with the run game public, coach Todd Bowles dismissed them as nothing more than built up frustration for a 31-year-old veteran looking for more than the three victories the Jets had going into their Thursday night game with the Bills.
Forte and Bowles held a chat with Morton on Monday to discern where the run game is headed.
“We didn’t spend too much time on it,” Forte said on Monday. “We just talked about some ways to help us win games and then we’re moving on to Buffalo. The main goal for me, as well as for the coaches, is to win games, and that’s what we’re trying to find out, ways to do that.”
In the first half Thursday night, the Jets rushed for 73 yards a 4.8 average. Forte, who carried the ball just four times against the Falcons, had seven carries for a team-leading 38 yards in the half.
He was doing even better immediately after halftime, breaking off a 20-yard run that led to a Jets touchdown early in the third quarter.
Morton likes to rotate his running backs to keep them fresh. Forte is probably old school, just give him 25-30 carries a game and he’s happy. Running backs like to build a rhythm because when that happens, the yardage adds up In his career, Forte has 11 games with at least 25 carries. He had three 25-plus carry games with the Jets last season, all victories. With the Bears he had eight 25 carry games and they went 6-2.
The Jets entered Thursday night with 766 rushing yards, 20th in the NFL, For the analytical folks, Pro Football Reference has the Jets with a minus 37.29 ranking of expected points contributed by the running game. The NFL average is minus 14.2.
What this means is regardless of Forte’s complaints and Bowles’ reaction to them, the Jets’ running attack hadn’t been very productive in the first eight games. It seemed to be improving Thursday night.