By KIMBERLEY A. MARTIN
The calls for Tim Tebow have obscured the biggest issue facing the Jets.
It's not Mark Sanchez's struggles at quarterback. Nor is it that Tony Sparano's Wildcat has been tame at best.
The Jets simply have been unable to run the football.
They tried to distance themselves from the Brian Schottenheimer Era this season by returning to their ground-and-pound roots. But their running game has yet to produce, and their own defense has enabled opposing backs to break tackles at will.
The fact that this is even an issue for a "ground-and-pound" team is - in one word - absurd.
Yes, the Jets are 2-2 overall. And they're 2-0 in their division. But to stay atop the AFC East, they need more than just 86.5 rushing yards per game.
If you thought the 49ers' defense was stout, consider this: The Houston Texans, the Jets' Monday night opponents, have the No. 1-ranked overall defense in the NFL.
Featured back (at least on paper) Shonn Greene had 1,000-plus rushing yards for the first time in his career in 2011 - a season in which the Jets failed to reach the playoffs. Greene rushed for 157 yards (3.08 per carry) and a touchdown through the first four games last season. And this year, the fourth-year back has amassed 191 yards and a touchdown over the same span. But he's averaging just 2.8 yards.
Bilal Powell (99 yards, 26 carries) has showed burst at times and is creeping up on Greene's play count. Against San Francisco, the second-year back was on the field for 60 percent (32) of the Jets' 53 offensive plays, and Greene got only 18 snaps (34 percent). Neither, however, was productive.
Greene had just 34 yards on 11 carries and his longest run was 5 yards. Powell, on the other hand, had just four carries for 11 yards.
The NFL has done the Jets no favors, considering three of their first four opponents currently are ranked in the top five in overall defense and the Dolphins are No. 1 at stopping the run (56.8 yards per game). But excuses matter little when the final verdict is based on the win-loss record.
This offseason, the Jets handed their running game over to a back who can't create in space but, in theory, generates better results as the game wears on.
"Shonn Greene is a guy that needs a lot of carries," his former teammate and current NFL Network analyst LaDainian Tomlinson said this week. "He's not a guy that is going to get you a home run on one play (or) a 60-yard run."
Greene's longest run thus far is 14 yards against Buffalo in Week 1.
The Jets touted their re-commitment to the run game despite obvious issues on the offensive line (the shuffling of Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse at left guard). And the issues on offense go far, far deeper than Wayne Hunter.
Center Nick Mangold said holes haven't opened up consistently for the running backs because of "six guys doing it right and one guy messing up."
"And then the next play, we'll have the other six doing it right and then another guy will mess up," he said Tuesday morning on WFAN. "I think the big thing is being on the same page, being connected and working as one unit. And unfortunately, we haven't gotten to that point yet."
With the offensive line and extra blockers failing to clear lanes, Greene is struggling to produce.
"I think it starts up front," said Rex Ryan, adding that his backs also have to run with power and "run through things ... The running game starts with them. It doesn't end with them, but certainly it starts with our group."
But the good news is the Jets' defense "traded" Joe McKnight back to the offense, after the third-year back spent a week trying to get acclimated to the cornerback position. And Tuesday, they signed free-agent fullback Lex Hilliard, a 2008 draft pick by Miami who was cut Sept. 19 by the Patriots. In two games with the Patriots, he collected 2 yards on one carry.
Who says the Jets aren't committed to the running game?
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