Jets’ Backfield Bad to the Bone

Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell give the Jets a three-headed monster in the backfield.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Chris Johnson paused for a second to think about the last time he lined up in a wishbone-type formation.

Three running backs. One backfield. Lots of problems for the defense.

"Probably high school," Johnson said smiling.

Well, until last Sunday, when the New York Jets had him, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell in the backfield at the same time for a few plays in a 19-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

"It was pretty cool," Johnson said. "They can't just focus on one guy."

That's how it'll be for defensive coordinators facing the Jets this season. Maybe all three will be out there. Or, maybe just one — but which one?

"We're blessed," coach Rex Ryan said, "to have three really good backs."

Johnson, Ivory and Powell — the Jets' Smash, Flash and Dash backfield — helped power a rushing attack that gained 212 yards last Sunday.

Ivory is Smash, a powerful runner who can plow through defenders. Johnson is Flash, a still-speedy veteran who once ran for 2,000 yards. Powell is Dash, an underrated do-it-all running back.

The three will go up against the Packers this Sunday at Green Bay, hoping for the same type of success as Seattle, which ran for 207 yards last week.

"It gives the defense a different look, something that they're not used to seeing all the time," said quarterback Geno Smith, who ran for 38 yards himself against the Raiders.

Ivory rushed for 102 yards on 10 carries, including a career-best 71-yard burst that put the Jets in control in the fourth quarter. He's a violent runner, a guy who hits defenders with such force that his long dreads fly from under his helmet with each pop of the pads.

On a 26-yard pass from Smith to Jeff Cumberland in the second quarter, Ivory had a huge blitz pickup of a charging Sio Moore. The biggest play, though, came with the Jets nursing a 13-7 lead when he took the handoff, slipped out of a few would-be tacklers and rumbled down the field.

"Just a great run," Ivory said. "I was able to break one or two (tackles), I saw a cutback lane and took it. And after that, just try to see who's the fastest to the end zone."

Ryan kept telling Ivory on the sideline earlier in the game to keep pounding the ball because he thought he was about to bust through the defense.

The coach was right.

"That big power back at the end of the day, man, that is tough," Ryan said. "And especially if it's not going your way. You love just handing it to the big back and let him roll."

Johnson has the most impressive resume of the three, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one of just seven players to run for 2,000 or more yards in a season. That came in 2009, when he had 2,006 yards for Tennessee and was the fastest and most dynamic player in the league.

He's 28 now and maybe not as lightning-quick, but he's still faster than most players on most teams. Johnson had 68 yards on 13 carries and five catches for 23 yards — including a 5-yard TD — in the opener, showing a bit of the versatility that could make him a dangerous addition.

"There were a couple of times where it could've been a bigger play than it was," Johnson said. "But that's going to come with repetition and the more games I play and the more comfortable I get, hopefully those 10- or 15-yard run turn into 70 and 80 yards."

While Johnson was used to being the lead back in his six seasons with the Titans, Marty Mornhinweg could use him more in a rotation — depending on how each game is going.

"I think Marty knows what he's doing," Johnson said, "and he knows how to get the ball into his playmakers' hands."

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is also well aware of the challenges the Jets' mix-and-match backfield could pose.

"They have two very good running backs who are different-style running backs," Capers said. "One is the slasher, uses his speed. The other one is a north-south guy who broke a long run (Sunday), a very physical runner. They use all the different personnel groups and they spread you out."

Oh, and then there's Powell.

Sure, he had just one run for 4 yards last week, but the 2011 fourth-round pick finished second to Ivory with a career-best 697 yards rushing last year. He also tied for second with 36 receptions. He's versatile and valuable, and Ryan loves having him.

"I think Bilal Powell is one of the most underrated backs in the league," Ryan said. "We really never used him a whole lot last week. He's a good back as well.

"We have a whole stable of backs and, obviously, that's probably a strength of ours."



Packer Report Top Stories