- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Rex Ryan won't change who he is to pacify the New York Jets' old franchise quarterback, Joe Namath, but the coach definitely has changed to suit the current one.
Before our very eyes, the Jets have adopted a new personality on offense. After two seasons of Ground & Pound, with the coach pounding that philosophy into the team's culture, the Jets have become a pass-happy, Mark Sanchez-oriented offense.
Let's face it, they've jumped on the bandwagon, joining the NFL's passing craze.
If the stats don't convince you (73 rushing attempts, 111 passes), this will: In Monday's news conference, Ryan was asked if he's concerned about getting away from the running game. His answer was startling.
"I think, as long as you're able to move the ball effectively, we don't have to run it or you don't have to throw it," he said. "You'd like to be in a situation where, I looked at Baltimore [Sunday], they were throwing it all over the place. I think they had 403 yards at halftime. ... I'm sure, like this week, are you going to run it against Haloti Ngata, over and over, and against Ray Lewis? We'll probably have to throw it more than we want."
In the not-so-old days, Ryan would've given a defiant response, saying they could run the ball against anybody. This answer, based on the Jets' upcoming opponent, bordered on heresy. Ryan, going to the other side? What next, Barbra Streisand joining Lady Gaga on tour?
Cue "Taps." Ground & Pound is dead.
Is that a good thing? Not necessarily, not at this moment.
The Jets are scoring points and Sanchez is throwing for a ton of yards, but when you play that way -- when you put the game in the hands of your still-developing quarterback -- it does no favors for the defense. Based on Sunday's performance in Oakland, where Darren McFadden ran the length of the Bay Bridge, Ryan's once-swagger-licious defense needs all the help it can get.
The defense got plenty of help in 2009 and 2010, when the Jets ran the ball and kept running it no matter what the opposing defense threw at them. This game plan reduced the burden on their young quarterback and shortened the game, playing to the Jets' strength -- the defense.
Those days are over, and it was apparent at the start of the third quarter in Oakland. Even though the Jets ran it fairly effectively in the first half, for a change, they came out after intermission -- in a tie game -- and called passes on five of the first six plays. They punted.
Coaches call plays because they think they'll work, and those decisions often tell us what the coach thinks of his team. Right now, Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are acting like they've lost confidence in the running game.
Are they down on Greene and the offensive line or are they just high on Sanchez, Holmes, Keller and Plaxico Burress? It's probably both. The line was struggling before All-Pro center Nick Mangold was injured.
Ryan dropped hints before the season that he was planning to air it out a little more than in the past, but no one could've imagined it would be to this extent. On first down, the Jets are running 54 percent of the time, down from 63 percent (2010) and 74 percent (2009), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Their base offense is three wide receivers, spreading the field. Fullback John Conner, the Terminator, is reduced to cameos. When they use multiple tight ends -- usually a run-oriented personnel grouping -- they pass (24 plays) almost as often as they run it (27), according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The running numbers get smaller and smaller as the trust in Sanchez gets stronger and stronger. That's life in the NFL: Let 'er rip. But there's risk involved.
Sanchez still is prone to bad decisions -- i.e., turnovers -- and, without balance, he's taking a weekly beating. The head, the elbow, the nose. What's next? The Jets don't want to go there.
This pass-oriented style also speeds up the game and puts the defense in compromising positions, and that's not a good thing. The defense is underachieving and needs a boost. Ryan needs to get back to complementary football, using the offense to help the defense.
But here's the problem: Running the ball is a mentality. To be good, you need to preach it and practice it. You need to go to the line of scrimmage, expecting to dominate the point of attack, but it's hard to develop and maintain that edge when you're passing so much.
It might be too late to go back to Ground & Pound. These are the new Jets. Get used to it.