Commentary

Schotty confident in Jets running game

Despite criticism, Gang Green's coordinator still believes his group can be effective

Updated: October 7, 2011, 8:43 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's been a tough week for the New York Jets. After getting beat up by the Baltimore Ravens, they absorbed a few body blows from two of their former players, Joe Namath and Damien Woody, who questioned Rex Ryan's edict that he wants to get back to a run-first mentality.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer disagreed with Woody's contention that it's "almost impossible" to change on the fly and become an effective running team.

Schottenheimer predicted the Jets will wind up as one of the top rushing teams.

"The running game is a mentality -- sometimes it does take a lot of cracks at it -- but because we've been so good at it in the past and basically those parts are still in place, we have no question we'll be able to do that," Schottenheimer said Thursday. "When this is all said and done, we will be an extremely good running football team."

Woody was one of those parts, their starting right tackle for three seasons, but he was released by the Jets last February and retired in August. Currently, he's working as an ESPN studio analyst. On a conference call Wednesday with reporters, he expressed doubt about the team's ability to revert to its old philosophy.

Woody's comments got back to Schottenheimer, but the coach didn't seem angry. He joked, "How quickly they forget," referring to players who join the media.

"The thing I have a problem with is, Rex says, 'We're going to go back to ground and pound; we are going to run the ball.' But that's something you have to do from day one," Woody said. "You can't just flip the switch and just say, 'Oh, we are going to be a rushing team now.' That's something you have to do from the beginning; that's your identity."

The Jets, who averaged a league-high 160 rushing yards per game over the 2009 and 2010 seasons, are down to 71 yards per game. They've become one-dimensional, and that one dimension -- passing -- wasn't nearly good enough against the Ravens, who pounded Mark Sanchez and forced four turnovers.

In Monday's team meeting, Ryan told the players they were getting back to their Ground-and-Pound roots. Translation: We're going to run the ball Sunday against the New England Patriots. That, running back Shonn Greene said, was "music to the whole team's ears -- offensive line, running backs, everybody."

[+] EnlargeBrian Schottenheimer
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBrian Schottenheimer isn't worried about the running game, but should he be?

Naturally, Schottenheimer downplayed Ryan's behind-closed-doors declaration, lest the Jets tip their game plan, if they haven't already. He said Ground and Pound is a mentality, not a game plan, and that Ryan emphasized, "Let's get back to being physical." It's a matter of semantics, of course.

"Everybody knows how we're capable of running the football," Schottenheimer said. "This is only the first-quarter mark of the season. We're four games into it, coming off a very poor performance. We're not panicking, we're working."

The Jets (2-2) like their chance of running the ball against the Patriots (3-1), ranked 18th in run defense (108 yards per game). The Patriots will be without their talented middle linebacker Jerod Mayo (sprained knee), which hurts. That, coupled with the return of center Nick Mangold, could create opportunities for the Jets.

"As long as our defense takes care of business, then we feel like we can really get after them in the running game," left guard Matt Slauson said. "We've always had a lot of success on the ground there."

In the AFC divisional playoffs last January, the Jets rushed for 120 yards, allowing them to control the clock. That's the goal because they want to keep Tom Brady and the high-scoring New England offense on the bench.

Slauson said the Patriots "always leave a lot of big holes in the middle" of their 3-4 defense, but they're actually playing quite a bit of 4-3 this season, with massive tackle Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth (if healthy) in the middle. That's 675 pounds of run-stopping force in the middle.

At the same time, the Jets have tweaked a couple of their run-game techniques, and they feel confident in their ability. Before this season, they felt they could run on any team and any scheme, but they became infatuated with the possibilities of the passing game and drifted away from their winning formula.

Ryan challenged the offense this week to raise its game, and Schottenheimer believes his unit will do just that.

"When they're challenged with something," he said, "they always respond."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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