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Jets laid groundwork early to be No. 1 in run

Thomas Jones #20 of the New York Jets

Thomas Jones #20 of the New York Jets runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers. (November 29, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Brian Schottenheimer stood in the meeting room, shifting the focus to himself as he addressed his troops in their first true gathering back in the spring.

Schottenheimer first put the final touches on the 2008 season by going over a few things, and then the Jets' offensive coordinator proceeded to offer up one of the 2009 team's main goals, which grabbed the attention of a few guys. He started talking about how he wanted to have the league's best ground attack.

"He looked right at me and I gave him a smirk," guard Brandon Moore said Thursday, "because I didn't know if he really meant it."

Moore wasn't sure if that was just coachspeak, mostly because he was so used to Schottenheimer's sometimes pass-happy approach. But with new coach Rex Ryan bringing in more of an old- school mentality and wanting to employ a "ground-and- pound" philosophy, Schottenheimer had to tailor his scheme to Ryan's liking, which meant more running plays.

"When Rex came in and we knew that we were going to play with a young quarterback, it's actually one of the things we talked about in the spring," Schottenheimer said. "A couple of guys reminded me on Sunday after we won the game. That was our goal. We wanted to lead the league in rushing."

The Jets' "ground-and- pound" offense has yielded unbelievable results, taking their rushing attack to new heights. They stockpiled a franchise-best 2,756 yards and ran for 172.3 yards per game, averaging 4.5 yards a carry.

Their 607 attempts led the league and were the second-highest in club history, trailing only the 1979 team's 634. They rushed for more than 300 yards in consecutive games against the Bills and Raiders in October, only the sixth NFL team to do that and the first since 1975.

The Jets also featured the league's No. 3 rusher in Thomas Jones, who ran for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns - both career highs - and formed a solid 1-2 punch with rookie Shonn Greene.

"If you can run the football, you've got a great chance to win in this league," Ryan said. "Obviously, there's a lot of things that go with it. You've got to be able to be efficient in the passing game and you have to be able to play defense. Those are things I honestly thought going into it that the strength of our team was in our offensive line and our running game. I'm happy with it.

"I don't know if I thought we would average 170 yards a game, but I did think we could run it. Our guys certainly haven't disappointed us."

Perhaps what's most impressive about the Jets' ground game - besides their stout offensive linemen, who have started a league-best 32 consecutive games together - is how they've done it despite the exotic, creative fronts they've encountered.

With rookie Mark Sanchez under center, teams have dared the Jets to put the ball in the hands of their $50-million franchise quarterback. The opposition has stacked the line of scrimmage to leave few running lanes. That's really the case when the Jets bring in their heavy package and use a reserve lineman such as Wayne Hunter or Robert Turner as an extra blocker.

"There's a lot of times where it takes us a little while to get going,'' guard Alan Faneca said, "because people are throwing nine, sneaking a 10th guy in the box sometimes, trying to find a way to stop the run or maybe sometimes do things [differently] than they've shown on tape as well.

"Part of the ground-and- pound is accepting the 1- and 2-yard gain and staying with it, waiting for those 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-yard gains."

Wait, so teams actually have been loading up with 10 defenders in the box at times? Seriously?

"Yeah, it's hard to believe, too," Jones said. "When we watch, we're counting the guys and it's like, 'There are 10 guys.' I'm turning around looking at Damien Woody and Tony Richardson and I'm like, 'There's 10 guys in the box.'

"It's pretty hard to believe, but that's what we've seen. Any time you can have a running game that's been as productive as ours this year, defenses have pretty much done anything they can to stop us.

"But we take a lot of pride in being productive regardless of whether there's seven in the box or eight or nine or 10 in the box. You still want to make plays."

Still, not even Moore thought their "ground-and- pound" would be this successful. After Sunday's win over Cincinnati, he chuckled when he reminded Schottenheimer of that day back in the spring when the offensive coordinator set up a goal the Jets have reached in amazing fashion.

"A lot of times, they don't come to fruition," Moore said. "That's just one goal of many. But for that to come true in the way it did, it feels good."

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