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Jets’ Running Back Usage

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The New York Jets weren’t expected to do much ahead of the 2017 NFL season. The front office made a plethora of huge moves, shedding big name stars like Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to save money and look to the future. That kind of roster overhaul was supposed to turn a 5-11 team of a year ago into possibly the worst team in the league. Needless to say, the odds at top football betting sites weren’t cutting Gang Green much slack.

In fact, before the season started, the Jets were talked about as a team that could be headed for a dreaded 0-16 season. The talk of a tank was non-stop.

New York had other plans. The Jets brought in 38 year old journeyman quarterback Josh McCown to guide what they hoped would be a balanced offense, while a younger defense bought into Todd Bowles’ concepts.

Three-Headed RB Committee

A big piece to the puzzle was undoubtedly taking a balanced approach to the team’s running game, as well. One of the few veterans not to be handed a pink slip, Matt Forte accepted a reduced role that would help keep him fresh and also allow for the 31-year old rusher to stay employed in New York. That meant taking a backseat to Bilal Powell, but with the addition of sixth round rookie Elijah McGuire, New York finally found themselves with three competent rushers.

Instead of ramming one running back into the pile and hoping for the best, the Jets opted to keep all of their runners fresh in a three-man committee. Fresh has certainly been the operative word, as the three have split running duties rather evenly, with Forte notching 57 carries, Powell getting 83 and McGuire registering 61. It’s arguable Jets fans saw the benefits in week nine, when a fresh Matt Forte carried the offense in a blowout win over the Bills. Used sparingly in the previous eight weeks, Forte looked as good as ever as he rushed for 77 yards and two scores on just 14 carries (a 5.5 clip!).

New York ran into a brick wall in the Buffalo Bills in week one (who they ironically blew away in week nine), as Forte managed just 16 rushing yards on six attempts. Forte performed far better in week two in a blowout loss to the Oakland Raiders, but failed to average more than 3.1 yards per carry in four of his first five contests.

The point? New York knew before the season even started that they couldn’t again count on Forte to carry the load by himself. They were right. Forte proved in week nine that when fresh, his versatile skill-set can be quite effective and utilized in wins.

While that’s proven to be the case, the Jets’ decision to use Bilal Powell as the main starter most weeks and work impressive rookie Elijah McGuire in has proven to be the right call. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that not everyone always agreed with New York’s three-headed approach. In addition, Matt Forte pointed out after a week 8 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that the Jets needed to run the ball more.

One week later, Forte feasted on the Bills with the most carries he’d seen all year.

While Forte’s latest gem is certainly something for Jets fans to soak up, it might be unrealistic to imagine him being that effective with a big role every game. This is why incorporating all three running backs has been such a huge staple of New York’s offense (and needs to continue to be going forward).

Not Just Running Backs

A huge component to this offense has been it’s underneath passing game. The team has thrown the ball more than it’s run when you look at the numbers, but a short passing game with Josh McCown dumping passes off to safe options has actually produced a highly efficient offense. This isn’t a big-play offense, but it’s one that has limited game-killing mistakes and can move the ball down the field. Utilizing three versatile running backs as receivers out of the backfield has been a huge part of that. Everyone always knew Forte could catch the ball out of the backfield. The guy once hauled in 102 passes while playing with the Chicago Bears. It’s to nobody’s surprise that he’s been used in that role again, having caught 29 passes already through the first half of the season.

One could argue that there isn’t an elite rusher left in this three-man group. None of these backs can take over the job by himself and be a dominant soul-crusher every single week. Collectively, however, they do form one of the more dynamic and versatile running back rooms in the NFL. Powell and McGuire fill that logic out by totaling 24 more receptions between the two of them. Overall, the proper utilization of their running back’s talents has allowed the Jets to keep their head above water, compete in games perhaps they have no business competing in and has led to Josh McCown completing a career high 70% of his passes.

Not Among the Worst

The Jets have played their offense by ear for the majority of the season. Early on, they wanted to play it safe, run the ball and take pressure off of their defense. That equated to an unsurprising 0-2 start, but later led to some big wins. Eventually things clicked and New York’s tendency to simply take what the defense gives them and settle for moving the ball, rather than seeking the big play, led not just to competitive play – but wins. New York’s methodical style of offense isn’t always pretty and it’s possible it’s even lost them a couple of games, but it’s kept them hanging in the AFC wild card picture with a better than expected 4-6 record. The loss on the road to the Bucs in Tampa certainly stings. Sure, that’s not overly impressive at first glance and the Jets are still where everyone thought they’d be – at the bottom of the AFC East. However, they arguably got robbed in a loss to the New England Patriots, should have beaten the Miami Dolphins in week seven and lost out to late-game heroics against the Atlanta Falcons in week 8.

It is far from a dream season, but it is definitely not the tank that was predicted by many.

 

This Article Was Written By Phil Sullivan

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I started JetNation in 2005 and have been a New York Jets season ticket holder since graduating from high school. My dream is to see the New York Jets win the Super Bowl. Until then, I will be right here on JetNation writing, dreaming and talking NY Jets football.