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Monday, October 3, 2011
Updated: October 4, 12:27 PM ET
Rex Ryan promises return to run

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A furious Rex Ryan lashed into his players in Monday's team meeting, vowing to end the two-game tailspin and promising a return to their Ground & Pound personality on offense.

In other words, the tough-talking coach wants the New York Jets to get back to their tough-minded ways.

Ryan's anger caught some players by surprise because he seemed relatively calm after Sunday night's 34-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but he turned up the volume in an attempt to snap the team out of its funk.

"(Sunday night) he was definitely hurt, emotionally hurt, but today he was pissed," guard Matt Slauson said.

By the time he met with reporters, Ryan seemed drained, his eyes almost glassy. He looked as if he had barely slept. Told that he appeared subdued, the outspoken coach said "there's a little more fire burning in me than I'm letting on."

There was plenty of fire, all right.

Ryan was "as angry as I've ever seen him," said another player, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Players said Ryan's message was, "We need to get back to our identity" -- i.e. running the football.

The Jets (2-2) have suffered back-to-back, double-digit defeats for the first time in the Ryan era, and their trademark swagger has all but disappeared. Even Ryan, who guaranteed a Super Bowl in the offseason, backed off on that prediction, saying it's too early to talk Super Bowl.

But he made his guarantee in February, six months before the first padded practice. He was reminded of that.

"By the time we get to the finish line, we'll be right there," Ryan said. "All I'm doing is basing it on my past experiences. You don't go to the playoffs based on the quarter pole. ... But I think we'll be there, there's no doubt. I'll never lose confidence. As long as I'm coaching, I'll never lose confidence."

But his team has lost its identity. The Jets were one of the league's most prolific running teams in 2009 and 2010, but they've become infatuated with the passing game -- and it backfired against the Ravens.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez, under heavy pressure from the blitzing Ravens, committed four turnovers -- three of which were returned for touchdowns. The Jets ran for a season-low 38 yards, a stunning fall for a team that used to delight in pounding its opponents on the ground.

"We have to be able to run the football better than we're running it, there's no question about that," Ryan said. "Maybe we're built differently than other teams. We can get a lot of (passing) yards and all that stuff, but we want to get wins."

The offensive line, for years the bedrock of the team, has shown signs of crumbling. All-Pro center Nick Mangold has missed nearly three games with a high-ankle sprain -- they're hopeful he can play Sunday against the New England Patriots -- but the line was struggling before his injury. The only new starter is right tackle Wayne Hunter, a backup last season.

"A lot of our problems stem from not being able to run the ball," Slauson said. "We've put such an emphasis on passing because of Mark's maturity and all of our outside threats. We've been working it so much that the running game got put on the backburner and it's really showing in games."

The Jets are averaging 71 rushing yards per game, 30th in the league. A year ago, their average was 148.4.

The one-dimensional offense has put a burden on Sanchez, who has nine turnovers in four games. Against the Ravens, he was rattled and completed only 31.4 percent of his passes, the lowest mark in team history for a quarterback with at least 35 attempts in a game.

Ryan, who gave a harsh assessment of Sanchez after the game, softened his stance after reviewing the tape.

"I don't care if Joe Montana was back there, with that kind of pressure, it's hard to execute," Ryan said.

He refused to pin the blame on Shonn Greene, who has yet to validate his offseason anointment as the feature back. He has rushed for 157 yards and a 3.1 average, the lowest per-carry mark among the league's top 40 rushers. Ryan said he has no plans to reduce Greene's role.

"Shoot, no," he said. "How 'bout we give Shonn Greene a chance?"

That said, Ryan is high on second-year back Joe McKnight, who scored on a 107-yard kickoff return, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he works him into the rotation.

The big question is the offensive line, which has experienced uncharacteristic breakdowns, mental and physical. The Jets allowed two sacks and 10 quarterback hits to the Ravens, who confused them with ever-changing fronts and blitz packages.

"Concerned? Not at all," left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "We have tough skin and we'll get it fixed."

But running the ball is a mentality, and it might not be easy to flip the switch to 2010. But they will try. Asked if Ground & Pound is back, Slauson smiled and said, "Absolutely. ... We're going to be back. We're going to be back real soon."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.