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Jets Running Game Remains Grounded

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Jets running back Bilal Powell gained 29 yards on 12 carries in the team's 18-17 win over Tampa Bay. Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images.
Jets running back Bilal Powell gained 29 yards on 12 carries in the team's 18-17 win over Tampa Bay. Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images.

One fact learned in the Jets’ stunning, sloppy 18-17 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday was that they couldn’t run the football very well.

Geno Smith made his debut as the starting quarterback and not only did he operate the passing game, but he proved to be the Jets’ biggest threat on the ground.

The rookie out of West Virginia scrambled his way to 47 yards on six carries, more than half of the team’s total yards running (90). Bilal Powell, who seems to be the lead back for now, rushed for 29 yards on 12 carries and Chris Ivory, an offseason addition from the Saints, had just 15 yards on 10 carries. Neither back had a run longer than 7 yards, which won’t take any pressure off Smith. 

And it was also the rookie quarterback who wound up with the most important rush of the game, a 10-yard jaunt close to the sideline before he went out of bounds, where Lavonte David hit him to set up Nick Folk’s winning field goal.

Before that, when the Jets grabbed the lead for the first time at 15-14, they were unable to run out the clock. Ivory lost a yard on first down with 3:25 left and an incomplete pass and sack later, Tampa Bay got the ball back and went ahead again before the frantic finish.

That was a lot different from Mark Sanchez’s winning rookie debut in 2009 against the Houston Texans. In that game, Thomas Jones ran for 107 yards and Leon Washington added 80. Jones would finish with 1,402 yards and helped lead the Jets to the postseason.

Since then, the Jets’ ground game has been crumbling. Not even a tough run defense such as Tampa Bay's can excuse such a performance.

Back in 2009, the Jets ran for 2,756 yards, averaging 4.5 per carry with 21 touchdowns. Last season, the Jets ranked 12th in total rushing yards (1,896) and scored just 12 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 3.8 yards per carry. 

That unit got even weaker in the offseason with the departure of 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene. New general manager John Itzik certainly didn’t address the deficiency in the draft, deciding to rely on Powell and adding Ivory and Mike Goodson (Raiders), none of whom has proven to be an every-down back.

The key moment Sunday for new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg  seemed like a flashback to last season.

Trailing by two points as the fourth quarter opened, the Jets had the ball on their own 34 on third-and-1. The logical play would be to have Ivory pound the ball to get the first down and keep the drive and momentum going.

But that wasn’t the decision. Jeremy Kerley went behind center instead of Smith in the wildcat formation. And Kerley was dropped for a yard loss, forcing a punt.

The crowd at Met Life Stadium booed both the call and the result. The wildcat may be out of style in most of the NFL, but it still lives on with the Jets. They went to the formation five times against the Buccaneers, gaining a total of 13 yards, according to ESPN.

Since Smith looks to be the starter for a while, the ground game will need improvement to allow him to develop. Which might be tough Thursday against a team such as the New England Patriots.