Tevin Coleman’s longest run of the season, which also doubled as the Jets’ longest run of the season at that point, came when he burst through the middle of the line of scrimmage against the Patriots in Week 2, shrugged off Matt Judon’s attempted tackle and scampered 17 yards to the 34-yard line.
His gap had been sealed when tight end Tyler Kroft peeled across from the left side of the line and turned a Patriots defender aside, and a pair of offensive linemen did the same. It was the midway point of the second quarter, with the Jets trailing 10-3 and starting to find some offensive rhythm after a pair of Zach Wilson interceptions. Coleman’s run placed the Jets inside field-goal range. Their drive ended three plays later with Wilson’s third interception, but the running game had given the offense a brief injection of life.
After rushing for 152 yards against the Patriots on Sept. 19, the Jets have accumulated just 173 in their past three games. Their longest run against the Falcons was for 9 yards. They have managed just three runs for double-digits gains outside of that New England game. Head coach Robert Saleh said on Monday that he feels “we’ve been the better team” in the trenches over the past month of the season, though, despite what a ranking of 30th in the NFL — with a 3.6 yards-per-carry number for the season — suggests. Their Week 7 rematch Sunday against the Patriots presents the first opportunity to expand on Saleh’s claim, a chance, on the surface, to make it look realistic and replicate that early-season rushing blueprint if everything syncs together.
“One thing about offense in general, and especially the run game, is it really does take all 11,” wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “It’s just a bunch of one-on-one battles. … We gotta win our one-on-ones, we gotta know where to be and gotta make sure we’re there.”
When asked about the lack of rushing results, Saleh pointed to the yardage that a running attack like Tennessee’s generates behind Derrick Henry.
“It’s 3 yards, 3 yards, 3 yards, 20 yards,” Saleh said. “Three yards, 3 yards, 15 yards.”
After a while, he added, all of those consecutive runs start to wear on opponents, and the runs that generate chunks of yards happen. Berrios added that responsibility falls on the receivers to eliminate the safeties and other defensive backs from the play, too.
Tennessee’s success, as well as that of others around the league, stems from the number of possessions and individual plays their offense has, Saleh said. The Titans average a league-high 73.2 plays per game while the Jets average the fourth-fewest at 58.6. The Jets predicate their offense on a similar approach, but their number of snaps hasn’t reached that threshold yet, turning the New England game into an outlier instead of a regular occurrence.
“We just gotta keep running the ball, we gotta stay on our details and stay on our blocks, and things like that, to get the run game going and to keep running the ball well, to get explosive runs,” Coleman said earlier this month.
New York’s 38.1 third-down conversion percentage, which ranks 21st in the league, has ended possessions early. Untimely turnovers have, too. But, Saleh said, the “structure is there,” one anchored by what he called an improving group of offensive linemen — which could get a boost in a few weeks when tackle Mekhi Becton, who Saleh said on Monday is making progress, returns from his knee injury. At some point, he said, perhaps as early as Sunday, those results could start to flip.
“They’re getting better at it, but it definitely is not showing,” Saleh said. “But we feel really good about our O-line, where it’s at, and it’s only gonna get better.”