The New York Jets are 1-2 and the sky is falling (once again) after a blowout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. But a win in Pittsburgh would move the Jets to 2-2. If asked before the season started, most Jets fans would have taken a .500 record against the NFC North.
How can the Jets beat the Steelers? Run the damn ball.
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is trying to spread the ball around to his talented receiving core, but he’s doing so at the expense of his dynamic running backs. Joe Flacco threw 59, 44, and 52 passes in his first three games.
By comparison, Breece Hall is averaging seven rushes per game (5.3 yards per carry) while Michael Carter is seeing just over nine touches on the ground (4.4 YPC). Both backs are seeing a healthy amount of targets in the passing game, but this takes me back to an earlier point: Run the damn ball.
This is easier said than done. New York has been playing from behind for almost every second of the 2022 season. If the Jets are down double-digits in the first half to Mitch Trubisky, something went seriously wrong. With that said, there needs to be an emphasis on running early.
A solid ground game can accomplish three goals: 1) It can help ease Zach Wilson back into the swing of things, 2) lean into the offensive line’s strengths, and 3) keep the defense fresh.
In a perfect world, Wilson will play like he did against Tennessee and Tampa Bay last year. In that scenario, throwing it 40+ times would make sense. However, it’s wishful thinking to assume that Wilson will be firing on all cylinders after missing six weeks with a knee injury. Featuring Hall and Carter on the ground can help set up Wilson for easy chunks down the field in the play-action game.
Conor McDermott is filling in at left tackle for the injured George Fant this week, but that’s the one glaring weakness on the offensive line. Alijah Vera-Tucker is a potential Pro Bowler and Max Mitchell, Connor McGovern, and Laken Tomlinson can all hold their own. Hell, LaFleur can even run 12 personnel to go big with two tight ends.
Running the ball will limit the number of times that McDermott will have to face this dangerous Pittsburgh pass rush on obvious passing downs. Look for LaFleur to run Hall and Carter to the right side a lot. Rookie right tackle Max Mitchell might be a diamond in the rough after being thrust into a starting role. Allow Mitchell and Alijah Vera-Tucker to use their athleticism.
What a play by Max Mitchell! Works with AVT to move the 3-tech inside and then peels off to clear the LB out of the way. Hall runs behind him for 16. pic.twitter.com/gXLAQQJZKl
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 26, 2022
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, running the ball can keep New York’s defense off the field. That unit is struggling for myriad reasons. The biggest problem is that the coaching staff loves to rotate on the defensive line. By putting together long, sustaining drives on the ground, the defense will stay fresh for four quarters. Unfortunately, the coaching staff might be so caught up on rotations that they keep subbing out Quinnen Williams, but they wouldn’t have any excuse for it.
As a whole, the coaching staff needs to answer some questions in a resounding way this weekend. I’m no X’s and O’s expert or analytics nerd when it comes to football, but sometimes it’s a simple game. Pittsburgh is giving up 142.7 rush yards per game. Run the damn ball.
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Follow Danny Small on Twitter: @dwsmall8.