Jets’ offense improving with rejuvenated run game

Shonn Greene was prepared for the frustrating questions each

week for much of the first half of the New York Jets’ season.

What’s going on with the running game? Where’s the

”Ground-and-Pound” approach that coach Rex Ryan was so fond

of?

Well, the Jets are pounding opponents again on the ground, and

the offense has shown signs of efficiency. Just in time for perhaps

New York’s toughest stretch of the season.

”Obviously,” Greene said Wednesday, ”we have our identity

back.”

Thanks to Greene and a rejuvenated rushing attack, New York has

returned to being a run-first offense which has helped set up Mark

Sanchez and the passing game.

”I just think we’re playing Jets football,” Ryan said. ”I

feel that we’re a much more confident team playing this way, this

style.”

There are still mistakes to be cleaned up, as evidenced by a

shaky first half in a 27-11 victory at Buffalo last Sunday. But the

Jets (5-3) have three straight victories, with a first-place

showdown up next with the New England Patriots (5-3) on Sunday

night.

The last time the AFC East rivals played, back on Oct. 9, the

Jets were sent to their third straight loss. Ryan insisted he saw

some improvements, a few things New York could build on. The Jets

haven’t lost since, and it’s no coincidence the re-emergence of the

running game has occurred during that stretch.

”We’re starting to come into our own as an offense,” Sanchez

said.

The Jets ran for a modest 97 yards against New England in the

first meeting, including 83 by Greene. It was the third straight

game New York was without All-Pro center Nick Mangold, and his

impact on both the running game and offensive line was clear as

Colin Baxter tried to fill in.

Mangold went down with a sprained ankle in the second game of

the season against Jacksonville, and Greene had 49 yards rushing.

Greene followed that performance with 59 yards against Oakland and

only 23 against Baltimore.

”We never make excuses, but I wanted to,” Ryan said. ”He’s

the best center in football. Kind of like the Darrelle Revis of

corners, that’s what Nick Mangold is at center. So, having him out

obviously was a great loss to us.”

Added tight end Dustin Keller: ”He’s the quarterback of the

o-line, gets everybody where they need to be. He’s really

irreplaceable.”

Mangold returned for the sixth game of the season against Miami,

and Greene rushed for 74 yards. The third-year running back

followed that up with 112 yards against San Diego and then 76

against Buffalo last Sunday.

”I think overall as a team, we just got more into a rhythm,”

said Greene, 10th in the AFC with 502 yards rushing. ”Earlier in

the season, we were kind of out of sync, but now we’re fired up and

going on all cylinders and everyone’s doing well.”

It hasn’t all been a product of Mangold being healthy, of

course. The improvements have also come from a complete change in

approach on offense. Ryan has always preached the

”Ground-and-Pound” philosophy, wanting what he calls an

”all-weather” offense. But signing Plaxico Burress and Derrick

Mason in the offseason, and pairing them with Santonio Holmes got

him and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer excited.

Suddenly, the Jets were passing more than ever under Ryan. But

after that loss to New England, Ryan and Schottenheimer switched

gears – and likely saved the season.

”I got enamored with throwing the ball a little bit more out of

different personnel groupings,” Ryan said. ”We’ll throw plenty,

but I think the fact that we’re able to run the football and doing

that more effectively than we did at the beginning of the year and

making more of an emphasis in the running game, I think helps our

football team.”

Mason is long gone, having been traded to Houston after a short

and unproductive tenure with the Jets. That move was a clear

indication that New York was going a different direction: back to

the type of offense that helped lead it to two straight AFC

championship games.

”Well, we’ve just been balanced,” Sanchez said. ”Whether it’s

30-plus pass attempts or the 25- or 28-range, I feel comfortable

with all of it. But I just think our team works this way.”

As does Ryan, even though he acknowledged that there could be a

temptation to want to throw a little more Sunday against a Patriots

team ranked last in pass defense.

”It’s a balancing act,” he said. ”There’s no question.”

Sanchez is still developing a rapport with Burress and rookie

Jeremy Kerley, but has been a lot more accurate starting with the

last game against the Patriots. He trails only Pittsburgh’s Ben

Roethlisberger in the AFC with a 94.7 passer rating during that

span.

The Jets have also been solid in the red zone, converting 16 of

their 25 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line into touchdowns.

That’s only four shy of their total from all of last season. And,

it might have been more if not for a bad interception in the end

zone that short-circuited a 10-minute drive at Buffalo.

”The offense is kind of getting into a groove here,” Sanchez

said. ”We just want to keep it going and keep taking care of the

football.”

Notes: Ryan acknowledged he made G Brandon Moore a team captain

about a month ago, but didn’t announce it at the time. He called it

an ”oversight,” and added ”it’s somebody that I should have,

from Day 1, made a captain.” … Ryan for the second time this

week challenged Jets fans to be loud at MetLife Stadium and ”make

it miserable” for the Patriots on Sunday night.