FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Jets offensive coordinator John Morton is a listener, something he did two weeks ago when Matt Forte questioned why there wasn’t a bigger commitment to the team’s running game in a loss to the Falcons.
Last week against the Bills — the then-third best rush defense in the league — the Jets ran a season-high 41 times, scored three rushing touchdowns and gained 194 yards in a 34-21 victory.
So as the Jets move forward to Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay, expect Morton to remain an aggressive play caller and to listen if his players suggest changes.
“Always, I’d be stupid if I didn’t do that, I listen to everybody,” Morton said. “I listen to the quarterback, coaches, any players, especially players that have played in this league a long time, I’m listening. I have to do that. I’ve learned that throughout my whole coaching career.”
Forte, a 10-year veteran with 141 games on his ledger, earned his first start in three weeks against the Bills after speaking out. He gained 77 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns. Starting Forte was part of the package Morton wanted to utilize, and to prove he didn’t take what Forte said personally.
“I’m going to do whatever is working and it was working,” Morton said of the running attack last week. “We made a big emphasis the last couple of days, on a short week. We really wanted to get after it and I thought we did that as a whole team. It was good to see that and get that going.”
Morton isn’t one to shy away from a conversation with one of his players, because he learned as a wide receivers coach under Saints coach Sean Payton that disagreements can be good. Morton also learned from working for vocal coaches Pete Carroll at USC and Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers and Stanford that communication is important.
That means not only speaking, but also listening — a trait Todd Bowles liked when he hired Morton to replace Chan Gailey as play caller.
“We saw the game a lot of the same way, the things he can do schematically,’’ Bowles said of Morton. “As far as relating to players and communication, that was big for me.”
Communication has been important to the Jets this season. When Forte spoke out, Morton and Bowles said it was more out of frustration than being disrespectful. They talked about the run and, while no promises were made, Morton made sure the Jets established the ground game.
“It’s huge, he went out on a limb for us,” center Wesley Johnson said of Morton. “We wanted him to trust us with the run game as an offensive line, and as a unit we feel like that’s where our strength is. We feel like we can be the strength of the team. It helps us contribute, and he went out on a limb for us and I was glad we were able to back it up and make it worth it for him, too.”
It doesn’t necessarily mean the Jets need every player calling out a coach. But Morton has shown he is open to constructive discussion while dismissing the second-guessing that comes with being an offensive coordinator.
“Listen, after the game, players are emotional, coaches are emotional and sometimes they say things maybe they shouldn’t say,” Morton said. “I’m cool with that, I don’t have a problem with that at all. We all talked about it and life goes on. I listen. If guys want to do certain things, all right. As long as it’s good for the team, let’s do it.”