- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE -- The Jets’ best chance to win – Monday night and the remainder of the season – rests on the offensive line.
It’s the only unit that hasn’t been beset by injuries. In fact, not one starter has missed a game, a rare case of continuity for this team.
What’s more, the line is improving, making recent strides in the running game. The question is, what took so long? That’s where there’s a difference of opinion.
Rex Ryan said it took time for the line to get comfortable with Tony Sparano’s gap blocking scheme, designed for a physical, downhill running attack. A year ago, the Jets employed a zone scheme, a finesse system in which the linemen block areas.
Ryan’s theory isn’t popular among the players themselves; they’re not buying the scheme explanation.
“No, we ran gap schemes last year that we were successful with,” said LG Matt Slauson, whose opinion is shared by others.
Slauson attributed the recent success -- an average of 147 yards per game over the last four -- to persistence and rhythm, finding a groove.
“It’s that point in the year where the running game starts to happen,” he said. “Back in 2009 and 2010, we weren’t the No. 1 rushing team in Weeks 1 to 7 or 1 to 8. That’s not how the running game works. It takes a while, beating your head against the wall.”
The Jets’ 11th-ranked rushing attack is anything but dynamic – it’s been six games since they averaged better than 4.1 per carry – but it has allowed them to control the ball, taking pressure off the defense. It’s just the way Ryan wants it. It’s ugly ball, but that’s how defensive-minded coaches like it.
Sparano seems to have found a comfort zone with his play calling, dialing up more counters and misdirection runs in recent weeks. That’s why you see more pulling linemen, especially the guards, Slauson and RG Brandon Moore. Even the tackles, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard, are getting more chances to block on the run.
Sparano agreed that the line play has improved, saying the players have become comfortable and know how to react to any defensive look they might see.
With the Titans, the Jets will face a defensive front that’s better than its numbers might indicate. They’re ranked 23rd in run defense, but they’ve held their last four opponents under 126 yards. They have a young, aggressive front seven, and you can bet Sparano will try to dial up some misdirection plays -- runs and passes -- to exploit their fast-flow tendencies.