AFC East: Jets' Ryan Likes Ground Game

Are the Jets really on the right track with their running game? Just ask Rex Ryan.

Running game shows positive signs

   The Jets were fourth in rushing offense in 2010, but they rank 28th in that category through seven games this season. Still, they believe they are in the process of turning that around as they prepare to visit AFC East rival Buffalo on Sunday.

   "I feel really good about where we're at," coach Rex Ryan said Monday after the Jets' players returned to work after six days off during the bye week. "I think as an offense, I feel like we're at our best right now. This should be the best our offense has looked, and it kind of feels that way. We're back to running the ball better. We're protecting the quarterback, which we better do a great job of because Buffalo did have nine sacks (against Washington on Sunday), so we better have our protections dialed in against this group."

   The offensive line's low point of 2011 came on Oct. 2 at Baltimore, when the Jets had a season-low 38 yards rushing and quarterback Mark Sanchez was sacked twice, with both resulting in fumbles that were returned for touchdowns by the Ravens.

   But center Nick Mangold returned the next week at New England after missing two games with a high ankle sprain, and the unit has improved steadily since then. Another big reason for the upswing has been the play of right tackle Wayne Hunter, who has played much better since a rough opening night against Dallas and DeMarcus Ware.

   Left guard Matt Slauson said Monday, "In our opinion, (Hunter is) an upgrade" over former right tackle Damien Woody, whom Hunter replaced this season.

   "There's no excuse for us to not (be able to) run, and we're really close," Slauson added. "We're improving every week, and one of those games, we're just going to pop. ... I think as long as we continue to work and learn and execute, our line is going to be better in the coming games and the coming years."

   Third-year back Shonn Greene, who also took plenty of heat for the faltering running game, had a season-high 112 yards on 20 carries in the win over Chargers. It was the first time he had topped the century mark since a 117-yard effort at Buffalo on Oct. 3, 2010.

   A similar effort this week would be welcomed. Sanchez shouldn't be asked to carry this offense, and he also is very effective at play-action, an element that had been missing from the offense when the running game struggled. Keeping Buffalo's often quick-striking offense off the field as much as possible will be important.

Bye Week Blues

   --The Jets are 0-2 after bye weeks during the Rex Ryan era, but the third-year coach believes they are ahead of where they were when they went back to work after the bye in previous seasons.

   In other words, they won't be rusty on their trip to the Rust Belt.

   "We're ahead of the game right now as far as preparation goes for Buffalo," Ryan said after practice Monday, noting the Jets already were running plays from this week's game plan. "So we have a head start that way."

   Despite having lost coming out of the bye each of the last two years, Ryan only slightly tweaked his approach, still giving the players six days off before they returned Monday.

   "The time off, I always like to give them that," he said, adding the bye "is not just about one week," meaning he believes the extra time off keeps his team fresher for the stretch run of the season.

   "It always takes you a little time to get back in the groove, but I think it's fine," safety Jim Leonhard when asked if he noticed any rust during the practice. "It's an extra day. You're used to starting your week on Wednesdays. So today is a great day to get back in the building and get your mind back on football and knock the rust off."

   "We just have to make sure that we come back and focus in and get back into a rhythm as quick as we can," left guard Matt Slauson said. "I think that's kind of where we were lacking over the last two years. Everybody gets away and kind of rests a little bit and you fall out of that rhythm. And as far as today went, we were right in it, right in a groove, everything was going great. I'm really pleased ... It's just a focus thing and I really feel like everybody's focus is right there and we're doing well."

   Pittsburgh's win over New England (5-2) on Sunday means the Jets (4-3) are one game behind AFC East co-leaders Buffalo and the Patriots. After they visit Buffalo, they host New England in a prime-time game Nov. 13.

   "The teams we have to beat are right in front of you," Ryan said. "These next few weeks are going to be critical for us."


   --LG Matt Slauson tweaked former Jets RT Damien Woody, now an ESPN analyst who sometimes has been critical of the offensive line this season. "I watch a lot of things on NFL Network and ESPN and stuff," Slauson said, "and they're all saying, 'The Jets can't run the ball because they're not the same team, (and) they don't have those guys that can grind on you play after play.' But that just isn't true. We have the guys, our offensive (line) guys are the same except we have Wayne (Hunter), and in our opinion, that's an upgrade."

   Hunter replaced Woody this season. Woody retired after not being able to finish the 2010 season because of knee and Achilles' injuries. Slauson went on to praise the retired Woody as a "really good player. He had a hell of a career, but Wayne is an incredible athlete. As long as we continue to work and learn and execute, our line is going to be better in the coming games and the coming years."

   --TE Shawn Nelson, signed by the Jets on Monday morning, practiced later in the day. He was waived by Buffalo on Sept. 3. Nelson, a fourth-round pick by the Bills in 2009 out of Southern Miss, had 21 receptions for 182 yards and one touchdown over parts of two seasons. He started 12 games in 2009 but played in only five games last season because of injury problems.

   The spy-crazed Jets likely already have pumped Nelson for info on his former team, which will host the Jets on Sunday. Nelson, considered a receiving tight end, likely pushes rookie Josh Baker down the depth chart, but it remains to be seen how quickly Nelson can pick up the offense.

   Coach Rex Ryan claimed he wanted to draft Nelson back in 2009, but the Bills beat the Jets to him. That's two Buffalo draftees from April 2009 on the Jets' roster, Nelson and outside linebacker Aaron Maybin. Maybin was a first-round selection.

   --QB Mark Sanchez has 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions through seven games, but he still needs to improve his lackluster 55.8 completion percentage if the Jets are to cut down on the number of three-and-out series.

   --RB Shonn Greene has rushed for at least 74 yards in each of his last three games, with his best effort 112 rushing yards on 20 carries for a 5.6-yard average in the win over San Diego on Oct. 23. Expect him to continue to get the bulk of the carries.

   --RB LaDainian Tomlinson had only 51 yards from scrimmage against San Diego, as he was sick with the flu. He will be healthy for the game at Buffalo on Sunday.

   --TE Dustin Keller had four receptions for 53 yards against the Chargers but had a costly fumble that resulted in a San Diego touchdown. He had only five receptions in the previous three games, and he likely will be an important target for QB Mark Sanchez down the stretch of the season.

   --WR Santonio Holmes was targeted only three times in the San Diego game, so expect the Jets to get him involved early Sunday.

   --WR Plaxico Burress is coming off his best game of the season, a three-touchdown performance against San Diego. QB Mark Sanchez must continue to learn to trust Burress and throw him the ball even when he is covered, because the 6-foot-5 Burress knows how to go up and get the ball in such situations.

   --WR Jeremy Kerley is becoming a key third-down target for QB Mark Sanchez, and opponents need to pay more attention to him, although that won't be easy with Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress also on the field.

   --CB Darrelle Revis appears headed to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. He has four interceptions after getting none last season.

   --TE Shawn Nelson, a former Bill, was signed by the Jets on Monday. Don't be surprised if he is active Sunday for the game against Buffalo.

   --CB Antonio Cromartie needs to stay focused and have more games like the one he had against his former team, the Chargers.

   --OLB Aaron Maybin has resurrected his career after two lackluster seasons with the Bills. He has three sacks and three forced fumbles in only four games. He figures to be keyed up for Sunday's contest at Buffalo.

   --C Nick Mangold practiced Monday. Mangold has practiced on a very limited basis for the past several weeks after returning from a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss two games, but it appears the week of rest helped the healing process, just as the Jets had hoped.

   --DE Mike Devito (knee), who missed the San Diego game, sat out practice Monday. However, coach Rex Ryan said he is "very optimistic" that DeVito will play Sunday.

   --Rookie DT Kenrick Ellis, who left the Chargers' game with a sprained left ankle, didn't practice Monday. His status for Sunday's game is unclear.

More Jets news at: Green and White Report

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