NFL Nation: Chris Ivory

When it comes to running backs, two is company, but three is a crowd.

No matter how coaches try to spin it in the offseason, it's difficult to employ a three-back rotation, giving each player a fair amount of touches. Look at the New York Jets' history: Over the last 20 years, only once did they have three running backs with at least 100 carries apiece in the same season. That occurred in 2006, the first year after Curtis Martin, when then-coach Eric Mangini somehow made the playoffs with Leon Washington (151 rushes), Kevan Barlow (131) and Cedric Houston (113). Washington, a rookie, was the only legitimate player among the group.

Let's fast-forward to 2014. The Jets have six veteran backs -- Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Daryl Richardson, Alex Green and Mike Goodson. You figure two of them won't make the team, but that still leaves you with four. That's a lot of mouths to feed.

Johnson averaged 18 rushes per game in his six seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Ivory averaged 12 per game last season as the Jets' leading rusher. Powell averaged 11 last season. That's a total of 41 rushes for their top three backs. As much as Rex Ryan likes to ground and pound, the Jets won't run 41 times a game (last year's average was 31), so this will require careful juggling by the coaches and ego subjugation by the players, especially Johnson, who is accustomed to being the star of the show. Chances are, the main backs will be Johnson and Ivory -- a.k.a. the Two-Dreaded Monster.

"Everybody’s goal is to put wins on the board," said Johnson, who probably will sit out OTA practices to continue rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. "We’re not really worried about the carries, who’s going to play this down and that down. We’ve all just got one focus and that’s winning."

Ivory echoed that sentiment, saying he welcomes Johnson to the fraternity. If nothing else, the Jets will have terrific depth at a position that incurs a high injury rate. How the various roles are defined -- third-down back, short-yardage, etc. -- will start to fall into place in training camp. For now, it's a the-more-the-merrier attitude. Everything is peachy in May.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- They didn't draft a running back, but the New York Jets acquired one Friday on waivers, picking up veteran Daryl Richardson.

Richardson was cut by the St. Louis Rams after two seasons. The former seventh-round pick showed promise as a rookie in 2012, rushing 98 times for 475 yards -- an impressive 4.8 average. His production dropped dramatically last season (only 215 yards and a 3.1 average), but a patchwork offensive line might have contributed.

The Jets already have added Chris Johnson to their backfield, giving them good depth. They also have Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Mike Goodson, who will attempt to return from major knee surgery and still faces a gun-possession charge from his arrest last May.

There is no guarantee Richardson will make it to training camp, but if he does, it won't bode well for Goodson's chances of sticking around.
As far as Rex Ryan is concerned, it's 2009 all over again.

He can only hope.

On Monday, Ryan referenced 2009 when discussing his vision for the New York Jets' backfield, which now includes Chris Johnson. With Johnson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and, possibly, Mike Goodson, the Jets have an "unbelievable amount of depth" at tailback, according to Ryan. He said it reminds him of '09, the heyday of the Ground-and-Pound era, when they began the season with Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Shonn Greene.

Ryan refused to be pinned down in terms of his plans for Johnson, insisting his role has yet to be determined. This much appears certain: Johnson won't get 18 carries per game, his career average. Coming off arthroscopic surgery, and approaching his 29th birthday, the former Tennessee Titans star figures to be a complementary back.

"Nothing was ever promised that, 'You’re going to get X amount of carries,'" Ryan claimed. "We're going to have to compete for roles. No role has been determiened for anybody on this football team."

Johnson's surgically repaired knee (torn meniscus) could go a long way toward determining his workload. He has some arthritis in his right knee, according to an ESPN report, but it obviously didn't cause him to flunk the team's physical. Ryan said Johnson will be among several players limited in the offseason program.

Another player is Goodson, whose roster spot could be in jeopardy. Ryan said he hopes to have Goodson, but he didn't sound confident. Aside from the knee injury, he's dealing with pending legal charges (and a possible suspension) stemming from his arrest last May.

"If Goodson comes back, we’ll see what he can provide," said Ryan, adding: "I don’t anticipate anything in the near future that he’ll be able to do, but we’ll see how he progresses."

Goodson was supposed to be the breakaway back last season, but that never materialized. Now it falls to Johnson, who ran a sub-4.3 time in the 40 when he came out of college in 2008. Some of Johnson's new teammates sounded excited about having him.

"He's a highlight reel waiting to happen," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said.

Quarterback Geno Smith said "the first thing that comes to mind is speed and home-run hitter. I don't know how many times he's broken runs for 50, 60 yards, but it seems like he does almost every week. He brings another explosive dimension into our running-back room."

Johnson doesn't break as many long runs as he used to, but anything is an improvement for the Jets.
A few thoughts on former Tennessee Titans star Chris Johnson agreeing to a contract with the New York Jets:

1. Adds swagger on offense: Critics of this move can use a lot of numbers to illustrate Johnson's decline in recent years, but that would be overlooking the obvious: Johnson brings street cred to an offense devoid of stars and playmakers. Say what you want about his slippage, but the man knows how to score -- with 58 career touchdowns. The Jets, 29th in scoring last season, need guys who don't require a GPS to find the end zone. They have too many that do.

2. Projected role: The Jets intend to use Johnson in tandem with Chris Ivory. Presumably Johnson is on board with the plan or else he wouldn't have signed, but you wonder how he'll feel during the season. Remember, he voiced his displeasure last season when the Titans signed former Jet Shonn Greene, robbing him of carries. Johnson, who turns 29 in September, has to understand he's no longer a workhorse-type back. His days of averaging 290 carries per year are over -- or should be. Ivory and Johnson will complement each other nicely. Ivory is a tackle-breaking power back, Johnson the speed back with home run ability. Johnson no longer is the CJ2K of 2009, when he rushed for 2,006 yards, but he still has enough speed (assuming his surgically repaired knee is OK) to threaten the perimeter and stretch defenses. It also creates another wrinkle for the Wildcat package.

3. The new Shady: When he was the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg had a dual threat in LeSean McCoy who was (and still is) dangerous out of the backfield in the passing game. Johnson brings that type of element to the offense. He's not as elusive in space as McCoy, but he's a threat because of his straight-line speed. Johnson made 42 catches on 51 targets last season, averaging 9.3 yards after the catch -- fifth-best in the league. For what it's worth, he has 272 career receptions, more than any other player on the team. With Johnson leaking out of the backfield, opponents will have to think twice before sending extra pressure.

4. The new Ground & Pound: Since Rex Ryan took over in 2009, the Jets have rushed for nearly 11,000 yards, the third-highest total in the league, and they've done it without a true burner in the backfield. They have been a grind-it-out running game, but Johnson brings a different dimension. He makes defenses pay attention even though he falls into the all-or-nothing category. He has been tackled for a loss or no gain on 410 rushes since he entered the NFL in 2008, the most during that time. But he also has gained at least 10 yards on 200 rushes since then, second to only Adrian Peterson. The problem is that unless the Jets add another threat on the perimeter, they will continue to see a steady dose of eight-man fronts.

5. Commentary on the QBs: The rest of the league might be pass happy, but this move reinforces the Jets' belief in running the ball. They believe a strong ground game gives second-year quarterback Geno Smith the best chance to succeed. It wasn't a coincidence that Smith's late-season rally happened when the rushing attack perked up. Johnson will benefit, too, having two quarterbacks -- Smith and Michael Vick -- with good mobility. It will create creases in the defense.
The Tennessee Titans made it official Friday, releasing former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson. The New York Jets have interest, according to a league source. In fact, they were one of the teams that inquired about trading for Johnson, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneChris Johnson will be looking to bounce back after playing through a knee injury for much of last season.
A few thoughts on whether this is a move they should pursue now that Johnson's a free agent:

1. Proceed with caution: If I were the Jets, I'd try to sign Johnson on three conditions: There are no concerns with his surgically repaired right knee; he's willing to accept a deal for fair market value; and he agrees to be a complementary back with Chris Ivory. If everything aligns, he's worth the risk. CJ2K is gone, but any back with six straight 1,000-yard seasons has to be a consideration.

2. The upside: The Jets have a solid stable of backs, but they don't have a home run threat. While Johnson's statistics show a steady decline in his breakaway ability (he had only five rushes of 20-plus yards last season, compared to 22 in 2009), he's still fast -- and defenses would have to respect that. Right now, they don't have a runner that can threaten the perimeter on a consistent basis. Johnson is a finesse runner -- he doesn't break many tackles in the hole -- but they can create space by running him out of spread formations. He's the anti-Ivory, which is why they'd make a good tandem. Johnson would have to be OK with a reduced role. He'll be 29 in September, and he needs to understand that fewer carries would make him more effective and lengthen his career.

3. Extenuating circumstances: Johnson hasn't come close to replicating his signature season -- 2,006 yards in 2009 -- fueling a variety of theories on why his production has slipped. His per-carry average last year (3.9) was a career low, but he revealed after the season that he played with a torn meniscus from Week 3. He underwent arthroscopic surgery in late January and began running only about two weeks ago. The knee injury would certainly explain his lack of explosiveness. Since signing a four-year, $53.5 million extension in 2011, his average has dropped to 4.12 per carry (28th in the NFL). Is he a victim of circumstances or has the tread on his tires worn thin? Probably a combination of both.

4. Money matters: Johnson was due to make $8 million this season from the Titans. This is a depressed running back market, and a team would be crazy to guarantee that much money. A total of 24 running backs have signed free-agent contracts since March 11, and the numbers are sobering. The biggest guarantee was only $4.5 million (Toby Gerhart) and the largest average-per-year was $3.5 million (Gerhart, Donald Brown). The Jets have some wiggle room at running back. In fact, their backs are counting only $5.7 million on the cap, 29 percent below the league average, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Johnson has to be realistic with his demands.

5. Final thoughts: Based simply on the data, you'd want to stay away from Johnson, a player on the decline. But sometimes you have to trust your gut, gambling that a once-great player can find some of that old magic. If Johnson is willing to put ego aside, and the docs give the knee a thumb's up, he's worth checking out.
Chris Johnson's days in Tennessee are numbered, according to his agent. And, yes, the New York Jets already have been linked to the former 2,000-yard rusher.

On Wednesday night, agent Joel Segal told SiriusXM Radio, "Had some communication with Titans management today. I think it’s a matter of time before Chris won’t be with the Titans, just don’t know when."

Johnson's declining production, combined with a $10 million cap charge, has made him expendable. The Titans are trying to trade him, but if they can't swing a deal, they're expected to release him before Monday. Why Monday? The Titans' off-season program starts Monday, and they don't want Johnson to show up, risking an injury that could put them on the hook for his salary.

Speculation already is building that the Jets will be a major player for Johnson. Of course, we heard that about DeSean Jackson, too, fueled by owner Woody Johnson, and nothing came of it. This situation is a bit different because Johnson doesn't have the character issues that raised red flags with Jackson. I believe the Jets will have some level of interest in Johnson, but -- and you can probably predict the next sentence -- it would have to be at the right price.

As you know, the Jets are in a cost-conscious mode, so I can't see them spending a ridiculous amount of money on a 28-year-old running back. On the other hand, they recognize there's a need at the position. Early in free agency, they flirted with Donald Brown and inquired about Maurice Jones-Drew, although that never got serious.

The Jets have a decent stable of backs, led by Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, but they're complementary backs. In Ivory's case, there are durability questions. They need a home-run hitter. Johnson, despite his shrinking numbers, offers that dimension. Mike Goodson was supposed to be that guy, but he's still facing weapons charges and the possibility of another suspension by the league for violating the personal-conduct policy.

So prepare for the CJ2K Watch, which should be commencing shortly.

The latest on DeSean Jackson, CJ2K

March, 31, 2014
Took a rare, two-day respite over the weekend, so let's bring you up to speed on what's going on with the New York Jets:

As of now, they don't appear to be pursuing DeSean Jackson. If they are, they're doing a nice job of keeping it quiet. There was no contact between the Jets and Jackson's agent during his first 24 hours of his free agency, according to multiple reports. Am I surprised? Yes and no.

Despite some definite interest within the organization (we know owner Woody Johnson likes him and he's not alone), Jackson doesn't seem to be a fit in John Idzik's rebuilding plan, mostly because of character concerns, potential cost and the fact that they already have a big-money wide receiver on the books, Eric Decker. It's also a receiver-rich draft. That said, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who coached Jackson with the Philadelphia Eagles, has endorsed the talented receiver -- and his opinion carries some weight. (See Michael Vick.) For that reason, I thought the Jets would at least make a due-diligence call.

Could they be lurking in the weeds, waiting for Jackson's asking price to drop? In the world of free agency, it's never over until the player signs on someone else's dotted line, so I wouldn't say the Jets are completely out of it. That the owner is interested (you know, the guy who signs the checks) leads me to believe there's still a chance. Of course, if they really wanted him, I think they would've tried to get him in the building ASAP. Jackson will visit the Washington Redskins on Monday; he reportedly is drawing some interest from the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills. You already know how I feel about Jackson: Despite his talent, he's not a fit for the Jets.

There's also some Chris Johnson chatter on this snowy Monday morning. The Tennessee Titans are expected to trade or release the former 2,000-yard running back before the start of off-season workouts next week. I heard some rumblings a couple of weeks ago about the Jets' potential interest in Johnson, mentioning it Saturday in my Twitter mailbag. The NFL Network took it a step further Monday morning, saying the Jets do have some interest.

This might surprise some people because running back is thought to be one of the Jets' strongest positions, but take a closer look. There are deficiencies in the backfield, mainly no home-run threat and durability questions. Chris Ivory was a beast late in the year, but he's never played a full season. Mike Goodson has the kind of speed they need, but he's coming off ACL surgery and still facing charges from last year's arrest. Bilal Powell is a solid No. 2, entering the final year of his contract.

There was some buzz about the Jets' interest in running backs at the scouting combine, and I was told they were high on Donald Brown and Ben Tate in free agency. The chatter faded away, but there apparently was a stealth pursuit of Brown. The Jets made a bid, the New York Daily News noted Monday, but they lost him to the San Diego Chargers.

Johnson would be a nice addition because he's still fast, only 28 and would command respect from opposing defenses. But don't get your hopes up just yet. The conservative Idzik likes to flirt with the big names, but more than not, it doesn't progress to the serious stage. You also have to wonder why Johnson would be interested in the Jets, where he'd probably be part of a two- or three-man committee.

One last note: Linebacker Nick Bellore, one of the Jets' top special teamers, signed his one year, $1.4 million tender.

Sunday notes: Heard around the combine

February, 23, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS -- Notes and observations from the NFL scouting combine:

1. Backs to the wall: This comes as a bit of a surprise, but I hear the New York Jets are exploring free-agent running backs -- namely Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and Ben Tate (Houston Texans). Obviously, their greatest needs are wide receiver and tight end, with running back thought to be a secure position with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But general manager John Idzik is a big believer in competition and depth. It also could mean that the troubled Mike Goodson is on thin ice. The bad boy from last offseason has legal issues, a surgically repaired knee and an upcoming $650,000 roster bonus. Why would the Jets pay that for a player in Goodson's situation? Both Brown and Tate have above-average running skills and they can catch the ball, a much-needed skill in the Jets' backfield.

2. Money to burn: When free agency opens March 11, the Jets should have at least $22 million in salary-cap space (not counting the anticipated veteran purge), but that doesn't mean they'll be spending like Kim Kardashian in a designer clothing store. Idzik still believes in building through the draft. "The draft is your lifeline," he said. "Free agency is phone-a-friend." That said, the Jets are expected to use the phone a few times. The feeling in the organization is they will sign a No. 2 wide receiver, a tight end (if they lose Jeff Cumberland), a veteran backup quarterback, a running back and a kicker (if they lose Nick Folk). They're optimistic about their chances of re-signing tackle Austin Howard. Yes, they have a fairly lengthy shopping list, but I don't see them breaking the bank for anyone with an $8-million-a-year-type deal. They will use the draft to find a potential No. 1 receiver and a pass-catching tight end, along with plugging some holes on defense.

3. QB quest: The Jets met with at least two quarterbacks, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. The 6-5 Mettenberger, in the final stages of knee-surgery rehab, is an interesting prospect. Idzik, who scouted him in person during the season, is looking to add a developmental quarterback at some point in the draft. Mettenberger could be just that in the late rounds. I see the Jets going to training camp with Geno Smith, Matt Simms, a new veteran backup and a rookie.

4. Off the Mark: If the Jets decide they want to retain Mark Sanchez (unlikely), they will try to get him to swallow a massive pay cut. The amount of their proposal will tell Sanchez just how much they really want him. If they try to slash his base pay from $9 million to $1 million, it would be insulting, a strong indication he'd have no chance to unseat Smith. If they offer in the $3 million-to-$5 million range, with a chance to make more money with incentives, it would show they consider him a viable starting option.

4a. Butt fumble revisited: Former longtime GM and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian believes Sanchez has been unfairly stigmatized by the "butt fumble." "Unequivocally, the butt fumble wasn't his fault," Polian told me. "It's been played ad infinitum. The guard (Brandon Moore) got driven into him. Perception is often times reality, and that's what people think. If you ask the average person what they think of Mark Sanchez, they'd say the butt fumble. It wasn't his fault."

5. Legal tampering: The combine is the place where agents and teams meet to discuss free-agent deals. Technically, it's not allowed, but no one says anything. Curiously, a number of agents told me that teams are reluctant this year to discuss specific dollar amounts. It's likely that teams, concerned about having their offers shopped around, are waiting for the March 8-11 exclusive negotiating period to get serious.

6. Seen around Indy: Former Jets colleagues Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini lunched together. Despite the awkward parting in 2009 (actually, Woody Johnson was the driving force behind Mangini's ouster), Tannenbaum and Mangini have remained close friends. Mangini, named last week as the tight-ends coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is working his way up the ladder on the offensive side of the ball. If he makes it to coordinator some day, he'll have the rare offensive/defensive coordinator on his résumé.

6a. Seen around Indy II: Rex Ryan and twin brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, took a break from the combine to eat at a local Hooters restaurant. Naturally, they ended up on Twitter, posing in a picture with a group of Hooters' waitresses.

7. Give that man a pair of ear plugs: Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's experience in a circus-type environment (the Jets, 2009-2012) should serve him well in his new job as the Cleveland Browns' coach. He got the job after 23 people turned it down (only a slight exaggeration), saw the two men that hired him get whacked (Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi) and was hit Friday with the news that the Browns reportedly came close to hiring San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh before turning to him. Pettine called the Harbaugh story "noise -- and my goal is to quiet the noise." He recently held a staff meeting in which he used a Power Point presentation to underscore the challenge before them -- two playoff appearances, one playoff win and 141 coaches since 1991. Said Pettine: "To turn around a franchise, you have to be extraordinary." Here's wishing him luck; he'll need it.

8. Best and worst: I thought Michael Sam handled himself extremely well Saturday in his first news conference since sharing he is gay. Facing perhaps the largest news conference in combine history, Sam was confident, yet not cocky, projecting the image of a young man who just wants to play football. On the other side of the news-conference spectrum was Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who fumbled his way through a Q & A that focused on the bullying scandal. He was all over the place, accepting responsibility in one breath but pleading ignorance in the next. How they fired longtime trainer Kevin O'Neill, portrayed in a negative light in the Wells report, was a low-class move. The Dolphins flew him to the combine and then fired him, two days before he was to receive an award in Indianapolis as the league's top trainer. He didn't attend the ceremony, but received a standing ovation when his prepared remarks were read to the crowd.

9. Respect for JC: It was interesting to hear offensive linemen talk about South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the possible No. 1 overall pick. Said Michigan tackle Michael Schofield: "I played a series against Clowney, and that was probably the hardest series of my life." Other linemen echoed similar sentiments. The Houston Texans, picking first, have a tough choice. They need a quarterback, but Clowney is the best talent in the draft.

10. Johnny Football speaks: Clearly, Johnny Manziel's mission at the combine was to shatter his image as a rock star-party boy quarterback. Asked to describe the difference between Johnny Football and Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A & M star shifted into third person. "Johnny Manziel is a guy ... I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people. People make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, (I'm) really just still a small-town kid" -- who jets off to Vegas to party with the rich and famous.

W2W4: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers

December, 13, 2013
It's Week 15 for the NFL. It's Elimination Week 1 for the New York Jets.

Holding the ninth position in the AFC playoff standings, the Jets (6-7) could be eliminated by the time they go to bed Monday night. A loss to the Carolina Panthers (9-4), coupled with a Baltimore Ravens victory over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, means the Jets are done for 2013.

Who are we kidding? If they lose to the Panthers, it's pretty much over.

The Jets are capable of pulling a major upset -- see New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints -- but the difference with this game is that it's on the road. And the Jets stink on the road, which might be putting it kindly. They're 1-5 with a minus-14 turnover margin, the worst in the league and tied for the worst in franchise history. That encompasses a lot of bad football, so ponder that stat for a moment. Hey, maybe they can set a new mark with a shovel-pass interception. That would be fitting, considering the locale.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Bank of America Stadium. The top storylines:

1. Statement game for Rex: If Woody Johnson and John Idzik are undecided on coach Rex Ryan's future, they'd have to be impressed by a win over one of the best teams in the league, especially on the road. The Jets are an 11-point underdog (not that we pay attention to that sort of thing), and you don't see too many double-digit point spreads in the NFL. They received a confidence boost last week, beating the Oakland Raiders, but questions remain about the team's mental toughness on the road. The Jets tend to shrink at the first sign of adversity, which explains why they've been outscored in their last three road games, 105-26. For the sake of his own job security, Ryan needs a spirited effort.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesGeno Smith will face one of the toughest defenses in the NFL when the Jets play the Panthers.
2. I, Geno: Geno Smith offered a rather candid evaluation of his recent slump, saying he was playing like a robot. He played well last week, but this will be an entirely different, and tougher, challenge.

Unlike the Raiders, the Panthers (No. 2 in total defense) don't blitz much at all. They send five or more rushers on only 26 percent of the dropbacks, 27th in the league, per ESPN Stats. They create havoc with a four-man rush, dropping seven into coverage. It's a fast-flow, high-energy defense, led by MLB Luke Kuechly. Those play-action rollouts that worked against the Raiders probably won't succeed against the Panthers. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg needs to come up with a new wrinkle, perhaps some misdirection to exploit the Panthers' aggressiveness. This is Smith's most daunting assignment of the year.

3. Loose lips: The Jets unwittingly provided bulletin-board for the Panthers -- as if they needed it. Santonio Holmes' "weakest link" comment about the Panthers' secondary was accurate, but ill-advised. All he did was make things harder for his rookie quarterback, who could bear the brunt of the consequences.

Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson didn't take any shots at the Panthers, but his remark about how he'd be the No. 1 overall pick in a re-draft is sure to raise eyebrowns in the Panthers' locker room. They, too, have a promising rookie defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei, who is battling Richardson and Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Richardson and Lotulelei were drafted 13th and 14th, respectively. Richardson has been more productive, but Lotulelei could have a bigger game, especially if he's facing struggling rookie left guard Brian Winters.

4. Ivory tower: The Jets' best player on offense is running back Chris Ivory, who has rushed for 524 yards since Week 7 -- fourth in the AFC over that span. To pull off an upset, Ivory needs a big game. Unlike the Jets, who haven't faced the Panthers since 2009, Ivory is familiar with them from his NFC South days as a member of the Saints. His career average in four games is 5.7 yards per carry, including a 127-yard performance in the 2011 finale. But the Panthers' defense has improved a lot since then. They own the league's top-ranked run defense. In fact, they've allowed only one 100-yard rush and four rushing touchdowns since Week 14 of 2012. Starting running backs are averaging only 44 yards per game in that span. Good luck, Mr. Ivory.

5. Where's the D?: The Jets have allowed 836 total yards in the last two games, the highest back-to-back total in the Ryan era. This is no time for Ryan's defense to fade, but it looks like they're running out of gas. They've been vulnerable against the run, and they can expect a heavy dose from the rush-oriented Panthers. They have a well-balanced, if not explosive offense. The key is containing quarterback Cam Newton, who is making better decisions than in previous years. The Jets should be able to get plenty of licks; Newton has been hit (throwing, running, sacked) more than any quarterback in the league -- 122 times, per ESPN Stats. Obviously, it hasn't affected him too much.

Jets tickled by Ivory's smashmouth style

December, 12, 2013

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.

On Monday, it was the Chris Ivory show.

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.

[+] EnlargeChris Ivory
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesBringing 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.

"He's our momentum-starter," guard Willie Colon 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."
METAIRIE, La. -- As I wrote earlier, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said it was impossible to single out any one area that deserved blame for Sunday's 26-20 loss to the New York Jets, since there were fundamental breakdowns across the board.

However, the Saints' run defense was clearly near the top of that list of offenders.

“The thing that's disappointing about yesterday is we knew getting off the bus this is a team that was gonna run the football,” Payton said. “They knew they were gonna run the football. I think everyone at MetLife Stadium knew they were gonna run the football. And we weren't able to stop them. That's frustrating, and we've got to figure out why and make those corrections.”

[+] EnlargeNew York's Chris Ivory
AP Photo/Bill KostrounChris Ivory gained 109 of his 139 yards on three carries against the Saints.
The Saints gave up 198 rushing yards to the Jets. But almost all of the damage came on three plays. Running back Chris Ivory busted loose for gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards -- going virtually untouched on all three runs.

When asked how much of that was simply Ivory having a great game, Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton wasn't about to surrender any of the blame.

“I wouldn't say that. He had great numbers stat-wise, but there wasn't anything in his way most of the time he ran,” Lofton said. “That's more so (our fault). We didn't do our jobs or execute the way we should execute.”

The Saints either got blocked out of the way or took poor angles to the runner in every level of their defense. And they got caught over-pursuing on blitzes on the first two runs (the 27-yarder in the first quarter and the 52-yarder in the second quarter).

Those types of breakdowns haven't been a consistent problem for the Saints this year, even though they rank 26th in rushing yards allowed (121.3 per game). They have occasionally let some long gains slip through -- but never to this degree. And never against an opponent that was so obviously planning to run against them all day long.

Payton pointed to the 52-yard run while the Jets were backed up with a second-and-12 from their own 2-yard line as one of the two biggest turning points in the game.

He just as easily could've mentioned Ivory's 30-yard run on third-and-2 late in the third quarter.

“What went wrong was, I'd say it was a couple of things. Misalignment, not being lined up, not having people in the right spots, and just missing tackles, too, which led to big plays and getting gashed,” Lofton said. “That's something we haven't done in the previous games and it reared its head this game. We've got to get back to the basics and get ready for Dallas this weekend.”

Here's a specific breakdown from the tape of those three runs:

  • 27 yards off right tackle on first-and-10 from the Saints' 48-yard line: The Jets were lined up in the shotgun with two running backs in the backfield, and the Saints stacked eight men in the box. But the Saints got burned with an aggressive blitz. Lofton shot into the line, and outside linebacker Parys Haralson came around behind Lofton on a stunt. When Haralson got to the open hole, he overshot Ivory's path, and Ivory ran untouched deep into the secondary.
  • 52 yards off right tackle on second-and-12 from the Jets' 2-yard line: The Jets were lined up in a base formation, with Ivory behind a fullback in the backfield. Again the Saints blitzed, which took safety Kenny Vaccaro out of the play to the Saints' right side. Meanwhile, Ivory came around to the Saints' left side behind pulling guard Brian Winters. Winters got in Lofton's way, forcing Lofton to try and bring down Ivory with just an arm tackle -- which wasn't going to get it done. Deep safety Rafael Bush wasn't able to get across the field to help out. Luckily, Vaccaro wound up catching Ivory from behind, or else it might have been a 98-yard touchdown run.
  • 30 yards around left end on third-and-2 from the Jets' 27-yard line: Ivory was the lone back next to quarterback Geno Smith in a shotgun formation, with three wide receivers and a tight end. The Saints had eight men in the box, but they didn't blitz. This time, Ivory followed pulling guard Willie Colon around the left end. Colon took out Lofton, and Bush took too shallow of an angle while coming from the deep safety position.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 9

November, 4, 2013
An review of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 26-20 loss to the New York Jets on the road in MetLife Stadium:

Missing Ivory? I focused my postgame stories on the Saints' inability to stop former running back Chris Ivory and their inability to establish a run game of their own. So it's hard to ignore the question: Do they miss Ivory? I still say the answer is no. If he had stayed in New Orleans, he'd certainly have some highlight moments, like he did in the past. But he would also have quiet days, like he did in the past, for a Saints team that doesn't feature the run as often or as well as the Jets.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Drew Brees
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees was sacked twice in the final 20 minutes.
The trade made sense for the Saints, since their backfield is still overcrowded and they got good value in return for him (a fourth-round pick). But obviously the Saints need to figure out how to establish a more consistent run game, from their play calling to their blocking to the runners themselves.

Protection breakdown: The Saints became one-dimensional when they trailed by nine points throughout much of the second half. And the offensive line didn't hold up well under the pressure. Over the final 20 minutes, quarterback Drew Brees was sacked twice, guard Jahri Evans and center Brian de la Puente were flagged for holding, and guard Ben Grubbs was flagged for illegal hands to the face. Brees was also pressured into some incomplete passes, and the Saints failed to score a second-half touchdown.

The Jets do have one of the NFL's most disruptive defensive fronts. But the Saints' pass protection has been more up and down than usual this year, with most of the pressure coming up the gut.

Defensive breakdown: The Saints' run defense also broke down too often Sunday, allowing Ivory to bust loose for gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards. It was obviously unsettling, since the Saints had made it their primary focus to stop the run against a Jets team that doesn't throw the ball very well. The Saints now rank 26th in the NFL in run defense this year, allowing 121.3 yards per game.

However, I still don't see this as a huge area of concern going forward. The Jets are the first team all year that really dominated the Saints with the run game. And most of their damage came on those three long runs. Ivory gained only 30 yards on his other 15 runs.

Hartley's redemption: One of the best things that came out of the Saints' second-half offensive struggles is that it gave kicker Garrett Hartley the opportunity to make two high-pressure field goals from 55 and 43 yards. Before that, Hartley had missed three consecutive field goals -- including a 43-yarder wide left in the first quarter against the Jets. The two made field goals should help him settle back into a groove.

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 9

November, 4, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the New York Jets' 26-20 win over the New Orleans Saints:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Al Bello/Getty ImagesGeno Smith was a game manager, at best, in Sunday's victory.
1. A Sanchez-ian performance: Geno Smith's stat line (8-for-19, 115 yards) resembled something out of 2009, when the Jets micro-managed then-rookie Mark Sanchez. Back then, they overcame Sanchez's modest passing days and frequent mistakes all the way to the AFC Championship Game, thanks to a terrific defense and a strong running game. The Jets have tightened the reins on Smith in recent weeks, and it never was more evident than on the Jets' last two meaningful possessions Sunday -- both three-and-outs. In both cases, it was run, run, short pass. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg didn't want to Smith to lose the game. Was it a lack of trust? Perhaps, but there were other factors in play: a patchwork receiving corps and strong defense. Smith was reduced to game manager, and it worked: no turnovers. Prepare for more ugly ball down the stretch.

2. A new bell cow: The flavor of the month in the backfield is Chris Ivory, who rushed for a season-high 139 yards against his former team. In recent weeks, the Jets have gone away from Bilal Powell, relying on Ivory as the workhorse. Why? Because Ivory is healthy and fresh. He was huge in each of the past two wins; he ran for 104 yards against New England in Week 7. Ivory's powerful, downhill style should make him an effective weapon in the second half of the season, especially with the weather turning cold. The question is his durability. If he stays healthy, Ivory will be one of the big stories over the final seven weeks. Mark it down.

3. Much-needed bye: The Jets are a beat-up team, especially on offense. This week's bye comes at an ideal time. The major question surrounds wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who suffered a potentially serious elbow injury. The bye will give extra time for wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who has been nursing a hamstring injury for five weeks. The team is hopeful he can play in Week 11 at Buffalo. Tight end Jeff Cumberland (concussion), safety Antonio Allen (possible concussion) and linebacker Garrett McIntyre (knee) also are on the mend.

4. Milliner responds: That Rex Ryan, he sure knows how to push his players' buttons. His latest project: rookie cornerback Dee Milliner. One week after his in-game benching in Cincinnati, Milliner responded with a solid game against Drew Brees & Co. Perhaps buoyed by Ryan's mid-week gush fest -- he predicted that Milliner would be the top rookie corner by season's end -- the former Alabama standout managed to get through the game without being sent to timeout. Unofficially, he allowed five completions for 49 yards -- not bad, considering the opponent. "The kid played his butt off," Ryan said. If Milliner becomes a consistent player, it would be a huge boost to the defense.

Up-and-down Jets are playoff contenders

November, 3, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The NFL lives by the principle, "On any given Sunday." Not the New York Jets. For them, it's, "Every other Sunday."

Every other Sunday, the Jets are an elite football team. They're 5-0 in odd weeks, having defeated a couple of the best teams in the league. They did it Sunday, beating up the New Orleans Saints, 26-20, at MetLife Stadium.

Everybody knows how the Jets play in even-numbered weeks -- they stink -- but it's time to recognize the reality of the situation: They're a legitimate playoff contender.

The standings say so. The calendar says so. And their schedule says so. At 5-4, the Jets have a ... good ... chance .. to .. make ... the ... playoffs.

You have to say it slowly to believe it, but there's no denying it anymore. The Jets are starting to think it, too.

"Most definitely," rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. "If we stay consistent like this, we'll be a tough team to deal with. We have spurts where we show we're a playoff team."

A few lockers away from Richardson stood linebacker Calvin Pace, the oldest player on the team not named David Garrard. Pace, 32, isn't one for hyperbole, so his words carry more weight than Richardson's. Pace, too, believes this team has a realistic chance to do what no one thought possible in the preseason, when the Jets were 32nd in the Week 1 Power Rankings.

"We're a little inconsistent, but obviously we can beat anybody," Pace said. "We just have to put today's effort into the rest of the season and carry us into playing in the postseason. If we bring our A-game, we're hard to beat."

The brought their A-game only seven days after an F performance in Cincinnati. The revived defense, shredded by Andy Dalton the previous week, limited the high-powered Saints to only two field goals in the second half. Drew Brees got his yards (382) and threw a couple of touchdowns, but he was rattled at times, throwing two interceptions and taking two sacks and several hits.

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Wilkerson
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsThe Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson is looking to build off of his 10 1/2-sack season in 2013.
The Jets played superb defense and amassed 198 yards on the ground, led by Chris Ivory's season-high 139. It's the formula that worked in 2009, and it can work again for the Jets, who turned Geno Smith into a Sanchez-ian game manager. Smith completed only eight passes, eight stinking passes. It was Mark Sanchez, circa 2009.

The defense is capable of carrying the team over the final seven games -- because it's good, and because the Jets don't face any top-15 offenses the rest of the way. They're done with the Drew Brees/Tom Brady portion of the schedule, meaning they should be able to camouflage the holes in their secondary.

"We think we're an elite team. That's how we're thinking," Richardson said. "We just have to stay consistent on both sides of the ball."

That has eluded them, as they've yet to compile a winning streak. They're on the Geno-coaster -- up and down, up and down. If the Jets ever win two straight, they'll be calling themselves a dynasty. But you know what? In the watered-down AFC, where five teams appear playoff locks, the Jets are ahead of the pack for the sixth slot, the second wild-card berth.

Almost every team deals with inconsistency. If the Jets can manage theirs better than the other teams, they can slide into the playoffs. Any team that can beat the New England Patriots and the Saints in back-to-back home games can't be dismissed.

"Yeah, but that's up to us," Pace said of the playoff possibility. "If we go out and play 60-minute ballgames, yeah, we can go to the playoffs. If we come out like the Bad Jets, obviously we won't make it."

There's something about this team you have to admire: It's resilient. On Sunday, the Jets' four top receivers were players who arrived after opening day -- Greg Salas, Zach Sudfeld, Josh Cribbs and David Nelson. How many fantasy teams do you think they're on?

"We know we're not going to be the Kansas City Chiefs to the public, meaning we might not have a lot of well-known guys," tackle Austin Howard said. "But we have guys who can make plays. We have depth."

On Sunday, they turned to Ivory, whom Rex Ryan aptly described as a "punch-you-in-the-face type of back." The Saints (6-2) left with a few black eyes. Because he's relatively fresh, only 92 carries, Ivory will be a big factor down the stretch. His downhill running style will prove beneficial as the weather gets colder. He could be the '09 version of Shonn Greene, a late-season spark.

Ryan didn't want to be drawn into any playoff talk, noting, "Clearly, we have to fix a lot of things. But, hey, I know one thing: We've got a group that's willing."

And a group that's maddening. A week ago, the team's erratic personality wanted to make Ryan scream. On Sunday, he joked about it as he enters the Week 10 bye. Referring to the win-one, lose-one track record, Ryan cracked, "We're going to lose to the bye week, there's no question in my mind."

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

November, 3, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 26-20 loss to the New York Jets, which moved them to 6-2 on the season.

What it means: This was a frustrating loss for the Saints because they shot themselves in the foot so often on offense, defense and special teams. After preaching last week that their 35-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills was too sloppy, the Saints committed many of the same mistakes this week. Way too many big gains allowed by their run defense against New York’s Chris Ivory; penalties, dropped passes and interceptions on offense; a missed field goal and big kick return allowed on special teams.

In the grand scheme of things, the Saints can afford one loss -- especially to an AFC team. But they need to prove this was just an “off day” in chilly, windy weather, rather than the continuation of an ugly trend.

Ryan still winless: No one could have been more disappointed than Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who is now 0-5 in NFL matchups against his brother Rex, the Jets’ head coach. Rob knew this was his best chance yet to beat his brother -- especially with Jets quarterback Geno Smith so inconsistent this season. But the Saints’ defense couldn’t stop the run consistently enough to put Smith in uncomfortable situations.

Stock watch: The Saints’ run defense, which had been up and down all season, definitely did not rise to the challenge against a physical, run-first team. New Orleans allowed a total of 198 yards on 36 carries -- 139 of them by Ivory, the power runner who was traded from the Saints to the Jets this offseason. The Saints left way too many gaping holes and missed too many tackles. Ivory had gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards.

Stock watch II: Saints second-year receiver Nick Toon struggled on a day when he had a chance to play a key role with veteran Marques Colston out with a knee injury. Toon dropped two passes -- one of which was tipped up and intercepted. The other could have been a big gain down the left sideline.

Up next: The Saints will be back in their element next week -- a Sunday night home game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Saints have been dominant in prime-time home games, winning 11 straight and 14 of their past 15, dating back to 2008.