Commentary

Greene leading Jets' offensive surge

The RB's play of late is one of the reasons Gang Green remains alive in the playoff hunt

Updated: December 15, 2011, 10:21 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- First came the lightning, then came the thunder.

Shonn Greene took the handoff, slanted to his left and saw Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr in the hole, waiting for him. Instead of initiating contact, as he usually does, Greene sidestepped Carr, who made a diving attempt and came up with nothing.

As he approached the goal line, Greene encountered safety Kendrick Lewis. He could've tried another fancy move, but, no, this time the 226-pound running back lowered his shoulder into Lewis' chest and flattened him. It was like a sledgehammer pounding a lump of clay.

"That," New York Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn said of the seven-yard touchdown run, "is Shonn Greene in December."

It's happening again. When the weather gets cold, Greene heats up. He's Mr. December -- and he does pretty well in January, too.

Greene has rushed for 217 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games, one of the big reasons why the Jets are playing their best offense of the season. It happened this way last year, and the year before, perhaps no coincidence. The Jets are surging because Greene is surging.

A power back is a weapon late in the season because defensive players are worn down and beat up, and it's hard to punch back after three months of body blows. Greene himself isn't 100 percent -- he still has that nagging rib injury from three weeks ago -- but he's fresher than the would-be tacklers.

"That's been his M.O. since he's been here," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "He doesn't wear down, he gets better."

In regular-season games after Dec. 1, Greene has averaged 63 yards and 4.8 per carry, covering 11 games in his career. In 30 games before Dec. 1, he's averaged 49 yards and 3.7 per carry.

And we haven't even mentioned the playoffs. In six postseason games, Green has averaged 84 and 5.1.

Greene is a notoriously slow starter. That didn't matter much in his first two seasons, when he played behind Thomas Jones and LaDainian Tomlinson, but it showed up in a big way this season because he's the No. 1 back.

It took him three games to reach 100 yards, in part because of an early emphasis on the passing game. The criticism mounted. Some media types called for Tomlinson to return as the starter. Publicly, Greene remained confident, but there were moments of doubt. Lynn sensed it, prompting an early-season pep talk.

"I told him, 'If you have to, stop reading the papers,'" said Lynn, adding, "He was getting frustrated. I could see it in his face."

Greene is the kind of back that needs the work, and he was getting only 10 or 12 carries per week over the first month of the season. Lynn encouraged him to play with more urgency. Greene has a laid-back personality and sometimes needs a kick in the rear.

That helped. It also helped when head coach Rex Ryan, after four games of trying to be the New England Patriots, returned to the Ground & Pound approach. Since then, Greene has averaged 79 yards per game, fourth-best in the NFL over that span.

"It didn't start very well, but I stuck with it and kept grinding it out," Greene said. "It's finally come along."

Give some credit to Lynn. He's a demanding coach, but he's also an excellent teacher. He introduced two moves to Greene -- your basic spin move and the "Heisman," which requires the runner to lift his inside leg while straight-arming a would-be tackler.

"Those young guys thought it was just a pose," Lynn said, laughing.

Lynn learned various spin moves in his playing days, particularly when he backed up Terrell Davis with the Denver Broncos in the late 1990s. Lynn labeled Davis's moves the "Twister" (an inside spin) and the "Tornado" (outside spin).

As a big back, Greene isn't known for his fancy footwork. At first, he resisted the spin, but sure enough, he unveiled his first spin last month against the New England Patriots. Lynn was shocked, but pleased.

Greene also has improved his ability to set up safeties, facing up the safety and attacking. Early in the season, he made "too many turns," according to Lynn. When a runner breaks down too soon, it gives the safety time to adjust his feet and make the tackle.

As a result, Greene is gaining more yards after contact. Nearly half of his 868 yards have come after initial contact -- 419, eighth-best in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It has to continue for the Jets to have any chance of making the playoffs. They're built to run first and pass second, a formula they will use Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. They might be the league's biggest disappointment, but the Eagles still can get after the quarterback in obvious passing situations.

If Greene has another big game, the Jets win. If not, they'll be back to scoreboard watching, praying for other contenders to lose.

"I'm glad Shonn came around when he did, because this is normally when we make our push," Lynn said. "He never slows down -- and other people do."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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