- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Aside from quarterback Mark Sanchez, the biggest lightning rod on the New York Jets' offense is running back Shonn Greene. He's off to the worst start of his career but still has the backing of coach Rex Ryan.
"Have I lost confidence in Shonn Greene? The answer is no," Ryan said Thursday. "I think we just keep giving him the ball. He's working extremely hard. I think it's just a matter of time before he really starts popping. We all know, once he gets rolling, the whole team is lifted when your big back is running it."
Greene is running at a glacial pace, averaging only 2.9 yards per carry -- 45th out of the top 47 rushers in the NFL. The Jets' once-feared rushing attack has plummeted to 25th in the league, dragging down the rest of the offense.
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was hired because of his expertise in the running game, but the so-called Ground & Pound offense has turned into Grounded & Pounded. And Greene is catching most of the flak.
"I know a lot of criticism has been directed at Shonn especially," Ryan said. "Whoever the running back is, we have to create some running room. That's the big thing. That's what we're working on. I know we're working on it and I think we'll see improvements."
Ryan's vote of confidence notwithstanding, Greene has lost carries in recent weeks. He ran only eight times in Monday night's loss to the Houston Texans -- his career low as a starter (not counting one injury-abbreviated game last season). They rotated Greene with Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. Quarterback Tim Tebow also got carries when the Jets went to the read-option package.
Greene insisted he didn't take the lack of carries as a slight.
"Why would I look at it like that?" he asked. "I'm the No. 1 guy."
Technically, Greene remains the starter, but he has more fumbles (two) than broken tackles (one). Powell has received more playing time in recent games because he has "really earned the right to play," said Ryan, adding that Powell is "tremendous in pass protection."
In training camp, the Jets said Greene had the ability to be a 300-carry back. Moving away from last season's zone-blocking scheme, they expected him to thrive in Sparano's gap system, which accentuates power running. As running backs coach Anthony Lynn said, "If you're a power back and you can't get excited about this, your wood is wet. You should be fired up."
Greene isn't getting much help from the offensive line, which includes three Pro Bowlers -- center Nick Mangold, guard Brandon Moore and tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. It has a first-time starter at right tackle in Austin Howard, as well as a rotation at left guard between Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse. The line hasn't dominated the point of attack the way it did in previous years.
"It's as simple as a guy here, a guy there, not doing his job," Moore said. "We're not doing our jobs."
The time-share at left guard could be disrupting the chemistry, but Ryan claimed that isn't the case.
"We all sing out of the same hymnal," he said.
The level of competition could be a factor, as the Jets have faced four defenses ranked in the top 11 against the run. This week, they face the Indianapolis Colts, who are ranked 25th.
Greene, who has rushed for 217 yards on 76 carries, didn't sound too alarmed by the slow start, noting that it happened last season, too. In fact, his numbers during the first five games last season were eerily similar to his current stats -- and he finished with 1,054 yards.
But a year ago, the Jets began with the intention of becoming a more wide-open offense, emphasizing the pass. This season, they're actually trying to feature the run.
"There have been times when it has been bad here and there," said Greene, reflecting on previous slumps. "It always comes back to being a positive and it gets going."
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