Last week we finally got some encouraging news about the lockout as this week’s schedule mediation has been replaced by settlement talks. The lawyers from both sides have been excused from these most recent meetings and not coincidentally, some progress is reportedly being made.

Unfortunately it’s not enough progress as the lockout is still very much in effect and as encouraging as some of the news is, it’s not encouraging enough to convince anyone that the idea of regularly scheduled football is anything more than wishful thinking at this point.

Phase two of the third year improvement plan is all about the running game, specifically making sure Shonn Greene gets more work. ( Photo).

So for now, we continue the focus on how the Jets can game plan for improvement in year three of the Rex Ryan regime.

Phase one of the improvement plan was based around improving the consistency of Mark Sanchez. Phase two will both, help to make things easier for Sanchez, as well as benefit greatly from an improved passing game. Phase two is a rededication to a dominating running game.

Two seasons ago the Jets ran the ball as if they were using Bo Jackson in Super Techmo Bowl, they had a rookie quarterback who they clearly didn’t trust (color codes anyone?) and they knew their strength was on the ground. Last season it seemed the Jets put a bit too much faith in the growth of Sanchez and an effort to become a more balanced offense and by doing so they limited their own potential in the ground game.

When the running game would struggle a bit last year, Ryan and coaches would always give the same response saying that teams where more prepared for the run and therefore they tried to beat the defense in another way. Problem was they forgot defenses were just as prepared two seasons ago, the only difference was they kept running in season one. Two seasons ago it didn’t matter how the defense lined up, the Jets were going to run the ball, then run it some more. Sure they would be stopped for minimal gains from time to time, but eventually they would break through by wearing down the defense and imposing their will.

Last season the Jets got away from imposing their will on the ground and whether it was a case of trusting Sanchez too much or just out smarting themselves by worrying about balance instead of results, the running game suffered. This season the Jets offense needs to get back to that ground-and-pound philosophy and they seem to recognize this as they have certainly made sure they have the proper tools to complete such a task.

L.T. brings many positives with him, but the mirage that was his early season play probably hurt the Jets in the long run. No one expected L.T. to be as productive as he was early in the season, but because of his early success the team relied on him too much and got away from using Shonn Greene as much as they should have. It’s not even about the amount of yards each get, but how they get them. By using L.T. more the Jets became more of a finesse running team, when power is their strength. Greene hurts the defense even on short gains because he wears defenders down with the powerful bruising nature of the way he runs the ball.

Offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, is far from a fan favorite, but fans can take solace in the fact that he has apparently recognized this mistake and doesn’t plan on repeating it. Schottenheimer told Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News that, Greene will, “without a doubt,” be the teams feature running back next season as they try to get him around 20 carries a game and make him the workhorse that he is capable of becoming.

“Shonn’s ready to take that next step,” Schottenheimer told the NY Daily News. “He’s just gotten better year in and year out. His durability this year was outstanding. You just see the confidence in his eyes. His ability to pick up pass protection stuff has been terrific the last couple years. We expect a breakout season from him. He’s a guy that’s got just huge, huge, huge potential that we think is right there ready for him to grab.”

The line in that quote about Greene’s pass protection ability is particularly meaningful, it was no secret that part of the reason why L.T. was in the game for so many snaps was because of how much better he was at pass protecting (as well as receiving). Keeping L.T. in meant defenses had to guard against both the run and pass, where as when Greene was in the Jets were usually going to run the ball.

This year the Jets expect more from Greene and so should the fans, L.T. will have a smaller role as the third down back, but this should help him stay effective deep into the season and of course these aren’t the only two running backs on this roster.

Ryan surprised some with his selection of the Bilal Powell, running back out of Louisville, in this year’s draft, but it shouldn’t have. Ryan loves powerful running backs and in this league and under this coach you can never have too many of them. Joe McKnight will also be asked to contribute more as the Jets will likely use him in a similar way as L.T. and the kid showed a lot of growth last year so the team is excited to see what they can get from him from here on out. On top of all of this, Jets fans can be thrilled for the beginning of the John, “the terminator,” Conner era as he will be the team’s starting fullback.

“When you talk about John, he immediately gets put into that ‘Terminator’ role,” Schottenheimer told the NY Daily News. “That’s what everybody talks about. But you’re talking about a guy who’s an awfully good athlete. As he continues to grow as a player, I think you’ll see a guy that flashes the ability to do so many things whether it’s playing in a one-back role or catching the ball out of the backfield. He will not lose the ability to strike people and move them. You’re talking about a good young ascending player. That’s what’s so exciting about the guys we have on this roster. We have a lot of young players that are ascending.”

It’s clear that the Jets realized they got away from the running game too much last year and they are determined not to make the same mistake this year. Phase one of the improvement plan was all about the consistency of Sanchez, but focusing on reestablishing a dominate running game first will go a long way to making Sanchez’s task that much more attainable.

Sanchez should continue to grow and the team should be able to ask more of him this upcoming season, but the first step to making sure this offense becomes a well-oiled machine of consistency is getting back to the mind state that they can’t be stopped on the ground.

If defenses can’t stop the running game, then it’s up to the Jets not to stop it for them.
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