Thursday, December 12, 2013
Jets tickled by Ivory's smashmouth style
By Rich Cimini ESPN.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The day after every win, Rex Ryan picks out a few highlight plays from the game and shows them to the team. He calls them "Play like a Jet" plays, his version of the SportsCenter Top 10 -- except there's usually about five. He chooses "effort" plays: extraordinary blocks, blow-up tackles, that sort of thing.
Ivory's 15-yard touchdown run against the Oakland Raiders, a play in which he broke four tackles and caused another defender to miss, made it to the big screen. So did a block from earlier in the game, when he flattened blitzing linebacker Sio Moore.
"We didn't have to worry about him anymore after that," running backs coach Anthony Lynn said Thursday, referring to Moore.
In a wild, up-and-down season for the New York Jets, the biggest positive -- at least from an offensive perspective -- has been Ivory, whose crash-and-dash style makes the offense watchable. Well, not all the time, but you get the picture.
After a slow start due to a hamstring injury, Ivory has emerged as the Jets' best skill-position player on offense, the one player who makes you believe that better days are ahead for a unit that has been scraping the bottom -- assuming general manager John Idzik can add a few more players in the offseason.
Bringing Chris Ivory to the turf is a chore. Just ask Sio Moore (55), Nick Roach and the Raiders.
Idzik could have as much as $40 million in cap space in his second offseason, allowing him to shop 'til he drops if he so desires. That wasn't the case last offseason. On a tight budget, his most significant veteran acquisition was Ivory, who cost the Jets a fourth-round pick in a trade with the New Orleans Saints and a modest contract -- three years, $6 million.
Ivory is a keeper.
"In today's game, he's so rare," Lynn said. "You don't see the power backs anymore. You see the space backs, with the open offenses. He's kind of unique. He's a throwback."
Ivory has rushed for a team-high 639 yards, including big games in the Jets' signature wins, upsets over the New England Patriots and Saints. He's the offensive MVP, easily -- not that there are a lot of candidates on the Jets.
More than numbers, Ivory brings attitude to the team, running with a whole lot of nasty.
"Anytime your running back can be one of the most physical guys on the team, it puts a spark in the offense," wide receiver Santonio Holmes said.
Ivory's game is predicated on breaking tackles. He leads qualifying running backs in yards after contact, averaging 3.1 per attempt, according to ProFootballFocus. Most of that is due to power, but unlike his predecessor, Shonn Greene, he has enough quickness to elude tacklers.
"If I have a little space to work with, I'll try to work with it," Ivory said. "Other than that, my mentality is I won't be denied. I'm going to come at you and try to make a statement."
Ivory made a statement with his block on Moore, blasting him so hard in the shoulder that he need a couple of minutes to get to his feet. Later, on the 15-yard touchdown, Moore seemed a bit hesitant to tackle Ivory.
"People don't get amnesia," Lynn said, smiling. "They do remember."
Ivory, 25, faces his toughest challenge Sunday against the Carolina Panthers (9-4), who own the league's top-rated run defense. They have a fast, aggressive front four and a middle linebacker, Luke Kuechly, who seems to make all the tackles. There should be some vintage collisions, Ivory versus Kuechly.
"I don't think one guy can wreck what we do," said Ivory, supremely confident for a guy who doesn't say much.
No matter how it plays out Sunday and for the rest of the season, the Jets can go into the offseason knowing they have enough at the running-back position to make strides in 2014. Idzik can concentrate on the many other needs -- wide receiver, tight end, quarterback, etc.
Ivory isn't the perfect back -- he's dogged by durability issues -- but he's the least of their worries. He should be part of the foundation, the future. He gave a glimpse last Sunday, doing more in 15 yards than Greene used to show in an entire game. It was a long way from August, when 15 yards was long distance for Ivory's cranky hamstring.
"This," Lynn said, "is the guy we always thought we had."