FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets' ground game has been grounded.
A once-flourishing rushing offense is sputtering — and it has the rest of the unit in a funk.
“Teams are stacking the box and daring us to throw it and beat them that way,” coach Robert Saleh said. “Usually, that comes with the weather. It’s a lot harder to throw the football this time of the year than it is earlier in the year. You've got to earn the right to back them off.”
The Jets were having plenty of success and earning the respect of defenses early in the season when rookie Breece Hall made an immediate impact by running for 463 yards in his first seven games. But he was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Still, New York was able to bounce back by trading for James Robinson and then having undrafted rookie Zonovan Knight emerge as a key contributor, along with Michael Carter and Ty Johnson. Lately, though, the running game is running on empty.
The Jets have just 192 yards rushing in their past three games, averaging a dismal 3.0 yards per carry during that span.
“The running game takes all 11,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. "It takes, obviously, a good plan, but it also takes a mentality from every single guy — me calling enough runs, me calling the runs at the right time, giving enough runs that keeps the defense off balance.
“It’s not high school. You can’t just run the same run over and over and over. It’s just been a magnitude of things.”
Injuries and inconsistency in the backfield and on the banged-up offensive line have certainly taken their toll. Running lanes that were opened wide regularly in the middle of the season haven't been as easy to find. And sometimes, they've been non-existent.
“They’re going to keep battling, I know that,” LaFleur said of the offensive line. “It’s been a whirlwind of different guys in there, but any guy that we have in there, we feel confident is going to get the job done. They've got another opportunity this Sunday to get that done.”
Knight, who was an unexpected bright spot while running for 230 yards on 46 carries in his first three games, has stalled. He has just 21 yards on 19 attempts in his past two games.
In the Jets' 19-3 loss to Jacksonville last week, fourth-string quarterback Chris Streveler led the team with 54 yards rushing on nine attempts after replacing Zach Wilson. Knight had minus-2 on six carries.
In the three games since returning from a sprained ankle, Carter has just 26 yards on 11 attempts.
Meanwhile, Robinson — acquired from the Jaguars on Oct. 25 — has played in just two games since, running for 65 yards on 18 carries. He has been inactive three straight games and four of the past five.
“If you can’t run the ball, there’s only one other way to move the ball,” said quarterback Mike White, who'll start Sunday at Seattle after missing two games with broken ribs. “I think if we do move the ball, then they won’t get to sell out so much on the run — and that’s when the run game comes to life. Especially in this offense, everything intertwines and works together.”
LaFleur's offense found success and balance with the running game in the middle of the season with Wilson and then White at quarterback. The Jets had an eight-game stretch during which they ran for 120 or more yards six times.
“I keep preaching to the guys: We have ran the ball,” LaFleur said. "There was a point in the season where we were a running team, and we were doing a lot of good things in the run game, and that’s kind of fallen off in the last month.
“As you can see, when you’re not running the ball what can happen. It hasn’t been good, and it starts with me, but we plan on getting that fixed.”
It could start Sunday when New York faces Seattle's 31st-ranked run defense with White back under center.
“Does Mike help that? We’ll find out,” Saleh said. “But at the end of the day, we’re in playoff-type football. Crappy weather, you’ve got to be able to run the football.”
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