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Jets' running game has been an unlikely weak link

Le'Veon Bell of the Jets is stopped in

Le'Veon Bell of the Jets is stopped in the first half by Alec Ogletree and Dexter Lawrence of the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Sam Darnold dropped back to pass on third down, surveyed the field, felt the pocket collapse, saw an opening and took off. By the time he slid, the Jets’ quarterback had gained 24 yards against the Giants.

It was the Jets’ longest rush of the season.

“There you go,” Darnold said. “Eighteen-point-nine miles an hour, I think.”

Everyone in the room got a good laugh. But the truth is, the Jets’ rushing attack has been a mix of funny and sad.

In the offseason, the Jets signed three-time Pro Bowler Le’Veon Bell, one of the NFL’s most dynamic running backs when he was a Steeler. The run game was expected to be a strength with Bell and another pickup, Ty Montgomery.

Coach Adam Gase was supposed to have limitless options with that duo, and they were supposed to take pressure off Darnold and open up play-action. Yet the Jets (2-7) have had as much trouble moving the ball on the ground as they’ve had winning games.

They rank 31st of 32 teams in rushing yards. The Jets average only 67.3 per game, second only to the Dolphins (64.4).

Bell is tied for 20th in individual rushing yards with 449 yards on 143 carries. He’s averaging a career-low 3.1 yards per attempt. Montgomery has carried the ball only 11 times for 40 yards.

The Jets haven’t had a single 100-yard rushing game as a team this season. Did we mention they have Le’Veon Bell?

This has led to questions about Gase and his ability to utilize Bell and/or if Bell lost a lot from sitting out last season. The ever-changing offensive line has been a major disappointment as well.

“We are turning the wheels, trying to figure out what our issues have been,” Gase said. “We’ve run into some teams that their priority is stopping the run. Some of these teams are built that way. We have to still find a way to be productive. We haven’t really been very efficient, I should say.

“We have had our moments where it’s short yardage or it’s second-and-short and we are getting first downs, but we’ve had too many times where we are getting negative yards or just stuffed at the line of scrimmage. We just have to do a good job of cleaning a lot of things up.”

The previous two opponents have let teams run freely, but they had little trouble stuffing Gang Green.

The Jets totaled 83 yards against Miami and 76 versus the Giants. The Dolphins had allowed 160.4 rushing yards before facing the Jets and the Giants had allowed 127.9. The Redskins, who will face the Jets on Sunday, give up an average of 136 rushing yards per game. Although Jets offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains called the Redskins’ defensive front “salty,” this is a third straight chance for the Jets to establish a run game.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing that we haven’t been able to [run] consistently,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “We just haven’t been able to put a game together that we can really walk out of it and say that we completely dominated and had 250 yards of rushing.”

Beachum played with Bell in Pittsburgh and knows how he can wreck a game for the defense. Beachum is surprised that hasn’t happened yet with the Jets.

Three of the Jets’ four longest runs this season were made by someone other than Bell. He has only one run of more than 15 yards — a 19-yarder against the Patriots in Week 7.

Last week, Bell scored on a 1-yard run for only his second rushing touchdown of the season. He finished with 34 rushing yards on 18 carries. Bell’s 1.89 yards per rush were the second-lowest of his five-year career. His third lowest (1.94) came in Week 3 when he ran it 18 times for 35 yards against the Patriots.

“He can do some special things,” Beachum said. “He can make it magical. He can change the momentum. We haven’t put him in that situation yet.”

Bell rushed for at least 1,268 yards in three of his last four seasons with the Steelers, though he did play behind a far better line and with more offensive weapons. But it’s been a struggle for Bell to get going with the Jets. He’s never gone nine consecutive games without rushing for 100 yards.

“The stats are showing it,” Bell said. “Right now, I’m more focused on just trying to win games. The stats are what they are. I know what type of player I am and what I can bring to the table.

“When we find ways to get everything going and we can run more offensive plays and not really hurt ourselves . . . we stop hurting ourselves, I think everything will start coming back.”

The performance of the Jets’ offensive line, with all of the injuries and the revolving door of the unit, are factors in the run-game woes. The Jets will trot out their sixth different starting offensive line combination on Sunday.

The line was another group thought to be solid after the Jets acquired left guard Kelechi Osemele and talked center Ryan Kalil out of retirement.

Osemele didn’t play well before electing to have season-ending shoulder surgery that was not authorized by the team. The Jets eventually cut him.

Kalil played in only seven games and was placed on season-ending IR Saturday with a knee injury. Jonotthan Harrison has replaced Kalil. Right guard Brian Winters suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week. Tom Compton will be making his first start on Sunday.

“Shuffling guys around, I’m sure it hasn’t been easy,” Gase said. “It’s such a team effort. It takes all 11 guys. In the run game, if one guy screws up, it’s a possible negative play or zero yards. You need 11 to execute to get four yards and you want to be consistent.”

But Beachum, who missed three games with an ankle injury, said injuries are not an excuse.

“You got to go out and execute,” he said. “It’s hard to just point at one particular thing. It takes 11 guys to get the job done.

“You can’t say it’s the scheme or it’s one person or it’s the situation. When the number is called and we have an opportunity to have a successful run, you have to find a way to make it.”

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