Geno Smith and the Jets passing game have struggled this season. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Ground and pound. Three simple words that defined the brash and power New York Jets when they were successful under Rex Ryan.
With a 3-11 record, gone is the cockiness but the desire to find different ways to run the ball is still priority No. 1 with Ryan’s Jets. Whether it’s Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Jeremy Kerley or even the newly acquired Percy Harvin, the Jets are trying to compensate for the lack of a passing attack from Geno Smith. But Smith, along with Ivory, Johnson, Kerley and Harvin, is a definite threat to run.
“Well they use a lot of guys. They have a lot of good runners: Ivory probably runs as hard as any player we’ve played against recently. Johnson has a lot of skill; Smith hurt us running in the first game. He’s a good runner, he’s a very athletic guy, can scramble in the passing game,” Belichick said. “They ran a bunch of reverses, Kerley, obviously Harvin. They use a lot of people in their running game to make you defend from sideline to sideline, as well as the inside power-type games and some read-option plays.”
Harvin has 31 carries for 201 yards (6.5 yards/attempt) and a touchdown this season, 21 of those coming with the Jets after he was acquired from Seattle. Ivory leads the Jets with 739 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Johnson has 613 yards and a 4.5 yards/carry average with a touchdown. If there’s a way the Patriots could be in trouble Sunday at MetLife, it starts with the Jets getting their running game up to speed.
“They have a very extensive and diverse running game,” Belichick said. “This will probably be the most volume of running game schemes and run game issues that they create that we’ve had in quite a while, certainly all year.
With Smith struggling as a passer, the Jets have turned back to their “Wildcat” to try and take some pressure off the signal caller, sometimes taking Smith off the field altogether.
“I think the Wildcat is, like a lot of things, defensively you just have to be ready for it every week. Wildcat, unbalanced line, empty formation, all those different type of things, if a team has shown them, they’ve shown them,” Belichick said. “But if they haven’t shown them, there’s always a possibility that they could put something like that together as a game plan thing. We always have to be ready for those type of things.
The Wildcat with the quarterback extended is, yeah, definitely I would say a version of the old single-wing type of scheme type of offense. It just presents another ‘ but it’s no different than a running quarterback. If you have a running quarterback in the backfield like [Ryan] Tannehill, Tannehill is back there with a running back and him, when he either gives the ball or fakes it to the back and then he either keeps it around the end or boots it and doesn’t have the ball, you still have to defend that.
The Wildcat, whether you split the guy out, or whether you do what Miami did and take the quarterback out after he hands the ball, you have to have somebody to account for that guy. It just creates another gap for you on the defensive line that that’s the problem that you just run out of guys or you don’t have the player that you would normally have if he wasn’t assigned to the quarterback. You won’t have that player because you have to commit somebody to the quarterback. It changes your numbers and some of your run defense fits and reads to again, depending on what coverage you’re in or what type of defense you’re in, but that’s the problems it creates and that’s why teams use it.
“However you do that with the quarterback, whether you boot him and pass it like the [Mike] Shanahan offenses did, they were so famous and productive for in Denver with the stretch play and then the boot, you have to have somebody to contain that guy. Or the read-option concept or the Wildcat concept, they’re all ways to try to take one guy out of the defensive front and force you to account for either the quarterback coming out of the backfield or him already be extended out. Then you have one less player in the box than your normal running game. That’s what they’re trying to do.”
As for Harvin, Belichick is ready for Rex Ryan to make full use of his speed as a weapon, someone Ryan didn’t have in the first meeting Oct. 16, and someone Belichick and the Patriots didn’t have to worry about.
“He is a weapon and they’ve used him as a weapon,” Belichick said. “They’ve handed him the ball a number of times. He’s certainly a threat as a receiver, so he can go down the field and get behind the defense. He can carry the ball on outside plays like reverses and speed sweeps and things like that. He’s also very dangerous on catch-and-run plays like under-routes and slip-screens and those type of things. They move him around in different spots, so you don’t know exactly where he’s going to be.
“Sometimes he’s detached, sometimes he’s in the backfield. He’s obviously a problem in kickoff returns. He’s a player that we know will be utilized somehow in their game plan. We have to have an awareness of where he is. They’ve been creative in getting him the ball and in different ways and trying to get him into space and give him a chance to get started. He’s an explosive and very dynamic player. That will be a big challenge for us to mentally make sure that we don’t make a mistake on what we’re doing and then playing whatever play they run properly and doing a good job with our leverage and our tackling on not only him, but really all the other skill players. They have those backs and they’ve got a lot of guys that are hard to tackle that make yards on their own.”