Since the end of the 2009 season, the New York Jets' running game has been on the decline.
With a few changes in the offensive line and a switch from Thomas Jones to LaDainian Tomlinson to Shonn Greene as the lead back, the running game has gone from averaging 172.2 rushing yards per game and being ranked first in the league to averaging just 105.8 rushing yards per game and being ranked 22nd in the league at the end of last season.
If the Jets want to have the same kind of success that took them to back-to-back AFC Championship games, they must get back to their ground-and-pound game. They actually have no other choice, given their personnel.
With Mark Sanchez signing an extension to remain the starting quarterback for the near future added to the hiring of new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who favors the run, all signs point to the Jets trying to recapture their once-powerful ground attack.
While hiring Sparano is a start, there are more ways to fix the suddenly nonexistent running game.
In front of every good running game is a strong offensive line.
The New York Jets had one, when they were leading the league in rushing yards per game.
This season, the line was inconsistent and had a glaring weakness at right tackle in Wayne Hunter.
The offensive line shredded their elite status in the 2010 offseason when they cut Faneca, a major contributor, in order to save money and drafted Vladimir Ducasse in the second round of the 2010 draft to replace him.
This was a costly move—Ducasse turned out to be a bust. He is still with the team but has not secured a starting role, and every time he plays, he seems to make a crucial mistake.
At the start of this season, veteran leader Damien Woody was cut, leaving the once-powerful offensive line weak, with no depth.
While Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore remain very productive on the offensive line, the Jets need more. They need more depth. They need to draft O-linemen, trade for them or buy them.
It may be best to go through free agency or trade for a veteran, since rookies may take longer to find their place and this team is in a win-now mode.
Free-agent and former Miami Dolphin Vernon Carey, who is familiar with new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's blocking schemes, can come in and take over from Wayne Hunter immediately. Former Jet Karreem McKenzie can also provide some depth.
The supposed heir apparent, Shonn Greene, did not get it done this season.
LaDainian Tomlinson is on the verge of retiring, and if Joe McKnight was anything more than a special teams player, he would have shown it by now.
Greene could be a utilized best as part of a dual backfield. He did rush for more than 1,000 yards this season with limited carries and behind a makeshift offensive line, so he is worth keeping around for next season.
The ideal situation would be to bring in another running back through free agency to pair with Greene, while also adding a change of pace back through the draft.
Pairing the 5'11'', 226-lbs. Greene, who runs downfield between the tackles, with an even bigger running back can pound away at opposing defenses throughout the game. By keeping Greene and a bigger back fresh, either one of them can have a possible big gain at any time.
With opposing defenses down, a change-of-pace back would thrive. One change-of-pace back in the draft is LaMichael James out of Oregon.
James has got a lot of speed and does not need many carries to get comfortable. At Oregon, he averaged 7.3 yards per carry last year.
When the New York Jets led the league in rushing in 2009, they ran the ball 607 times.
In 2010, when they ranked fourth in the league in rushing, they ran the ball 534 times.
This season, they ran the ball only 443 times.
It's a pretty simple formula—if you don't give your running backs the right amount of carries, they cannot possibly succeed.
At the beginning of this season, head coach Rex Ryan had the hope in his mind that Mark Sanchez was ready for more of a pass-friendly offense.
In Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, Sanchez passed the ball 44 times. In that game, the running backs combined for a total of 16 rushing attempts.
The Jets did beat the Cowboys that game, but it was in spite of the offense. The win had more to do with Darrelle Revis intercepting Tony Romo on what could've been the game-winning drive with less than a minute in the game.
New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and Rex Ryan have to figure out the right ratio of rushing offense and passing offense. Ideally, the Jets should be running the ball more than passing it, unless they can exploit a team's weakness another way.
At first it may sound funny that to improve their running game they have to improve their passing game, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
If teams know that all the New York Jets are going to do is run the ball, opposing teams will simply stack the box on every down, completely concentrating on their rushing attack.
Mark Sanchez and the Jets need to possibly add another pass-catching tight end along with a deep threat at wide receiver to Dustin Keller, Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley.
Sanchez also must improve his accuracy, and the offensive play-calling must not be so predictable.
Sanchez also must not force the ball but rather take the chance when it is there. If a receiver is open, he'd better get it to the right spot. He is going into his fourth season, and he needs to show some kind of improvement in his decision-making.
Right now, there are reports that the Jets are talking with former receiver Jerricho Cotchery. While Cotchery does not stretch the field, he's a great route runner with whom Sanchez appeared to be very comfortable in 2009, as he was the team's leading receiver.
It may also be the best interest of the Jets to reunite Sanchez with Braylon Edwards also.
In 2010, Edwards led the team with 53 receptions, averaging 17.1 yards per catch, proving to be a legitimate deep threat.
If the Jets do not go the Edwards or Cotchery route, there is plenty of receiving talent in the draft.
Nick Toon out of Wisconsin or Mohamed Sanu out of Rutgers could possibly fill the void, as they both will probably be there in the third round and on.