When the season started, the Jets deviated from their offensive staple of "ground and pound". The additions of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason along with the expected development of Mark Sanchez led Rex Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer to get pass-happy in the team's first four games, which resulted in an uneven 2-2 start.
The Jets have since returned to the ground-and-pound philosophy of the past and are 3-1 in their past four games, with the only loss coming almost a month ago in New England. At the midway point of the season, it's time to see where the performance of the Jets running game stands in comparison to pre-season expectations.
Shonn Greene: C+
Big things were expected from Greene this season, as he was taking over the reigns as the Jets' lead back while LaDainian Tomlinson took on more of a third-down role. The role has materialized, as Greene is averaging almost 17 carries per game, more than triple Tomlinson's 4.9. With just a 3.8 yards-per-carry average, however, Greene has been a modest disappointment.
Much of Greene's struggles early can be pinned on the offensive line and, since the return of Nick Mangold, the line has played better and Greene has too. His 345 yards on 81 carries in his past four games tell a story of improvement that has been the theme for the Jets this season, but he will need to continue to produce at this level if this team is to meet expectations. If he does, this grade will be significantly higher by season's end.
Tomlinson has struggled on the ground this season, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, but the Jets expected that. His anticipated decline was the major reason Rex Ryan made the decision to stick with Greene and use Tomlinson mainly on third downs, unlike last season when the coach quickly turned to Tomlinson after the young back's early fumbling issues.
Tomlinson has done the job he was expected to do with 23 receptions (tied for third on the team), 419 total yards and two touchdowns. He has done a nice job in pass protection on third downs as well, which has helped give Mark Sanchez time to convert third-and-long situations in recent weeks. He hasn't been as effective as Greene but the expectations were not nearly as high, hence the higher grade.
Joe McKnight: A-
With just 56 total yards in eight games, McKnight has made a minimal impact on the Jets offense in limited opportunities despite the coaching staff's insistence that they want to get the second-year player more involved. More than anything, this grade reflects the huge impact he has made on their special teams unit as both a kick returner and on the punt team. You may recall McKnight's huge punt block in Week 1, which was the key play in a tight Jets victory over the Cowboys.
McKnight was recently named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for October, a month that saw him return a kick for a franchise-record 107 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Baltimore. Despite just 15 returns on the season, McKnight is second in the NFL with 603 return yards and first with a 40.2 average. The most impressive thing about that average is even if you take away his 107-yard touchdown return, he's above 35 yards-per-return and would still lead the league by more than three yards per return!
John Conner: B
The less you hear about Conner, the better. The second-year fullback will never make an impact running or catching the football, but he has taken what he learned from veteran Tony Richardson last season and applied it in his current starting role. He received plenty of publicity last season for big blocks on special teams and his nickname, "The Terminator," which analysts like Jon Gruden love to harp on when they have the chance.
Conner has been a solid lead blocker for the Jets running backs this season and their early-season blocking issues were more with the front five than the fullback. If you feel like you haven't heard from Conner much this season, it's because the only thing the fullback is in the spotlight for is if he's drawing penalties or getting his running backs killed. Less is always more with a player like Conner.
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