3's not a crowd for Jets backfield
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Shonn Greene insists he isn't really all that into numbers.
He's a rare running back who won't sulk on the sideline if his carries are down, just as long as the New York Jets are winning.
“I'm not selfish, man,” Greene said Tuesday. “You all know that. I've never been that guy who says, ‘I want this or that.' The more, the better. That's how I see it.”
After the success Greene, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight had against the Rams on Sunday, all three could expect to be in the mix for significant playing time the rest of the season. While some might see three as a crowd, the Jets believe it's the way to bring back their run-first approach on a consistent basis.
“We have three very capable backs,” coach Rex Ryan said. “Instead of just throwing one guy in there all the time to take the hits, protections and routes, when you have three guys coming in, it helps.”
That certainly was the plan going into the season for offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who was excited about bringing the “Ground and Pound” approach back to the Jets' offense — especially with backup quarterback Tim Tebow in the mix as a wildcat-style presence. While that hasn't yielded the results the Jets hoped for, it also has been rare for all three running backs to be healthy and effective in the same game, as they were in the Jets' 27-13 win over St. Louis.
Greene ran 18 times for 64 yards, Powell had 42 yards and his first two NFL touchdowns on 11 carries, and McKnight rushed for 14 yards on four carries. The Jets finished with 124 yards rushing.
“I think that's where the league is going to,” Ryan said. “You don't necessarily have that guy that does it all every snap anymore the way you used to with a Walter Payton.”
Ryan also noted that the Jets' three AFC East rivals — New England, Miami and Buffalo — all use multiple players in their backfields.
The Jets will get a close look at the Patriots' running back rotation Thursday night at MetLife Stadium. While Stevan Ridley is the primary ballcarrier with 842 yards on 185 attempts, Brandon Bolden (43 for 234), Danny Woodhead (49 for 179) and Shane Vereen (33 for 117) have rushed at least 30 times.
“If you have the talent and the guys are healthy and fresh,” Ryan said, “I think that's the best way to do it.”
That approach worked effectively for the Jets in 2009 — Greene's rookie season — when he, Thomas Jones and Leon Washington shared the load, until Washington was lost for the season with a broken leg. The Jets still led the NFL with 2,756 yards rushing that season under then-offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
New York cut Jones and traded Washington the following offseason but still finished fourth in rushing with the arrival of LaDainian Tomlinson. Greene was the primary backup, with McKnight getting some snaps and receiver Brad Smith effectively used in wildcat packages.
The Jets slumped to 22nd in the league in rushing last year as Greene assumed the starting role, Tomlinson was relegated to the third-down back, and McKnight and Powell saw limited carries. When Sparano was hired this past offseason as the offensive coordinator, he talked about a return to the run-first mentality Ryan loves.
It has taken a while, but the Jets might be on the verge of getting back to “Ground and Pound” on a regular basis. They're 15th in rushing and rising.
“It's an opportunity to keep everybody fresh,” McKnight said. “When Shonn goes in, he gets his plays, and then when Bilal goes in, it's another fresh back. When Bilal comes out, I'll go in, and it's another fresh back. It's all about keeping us fresh.”
It's also about confusing opponents with three players with different skill sets. First, there's Greene, who is a blue-collar type of running back who leads the team with 631 yards rushing. Next is Powell, also a physical back who has some speed to bounce outside but also is an excellent pass blocker. McKnight is a speedy, shifty runner who also adds a pass-catching element in the backfield.
“This is a team game and I'm more into winning games than worrying about who's getting the ball here and who's getting the ball there,” Greene said. “My mentality is: Just win games.”