Why the Running Game Will Be Integral to New York Jets' 2012 Success

Adam FriedgoodContributor IIIJune 12, 2012

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - MAY 04:  New York Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano  coaches during the Jets Rookie Minicamp on May 4, 2012 in Florham Park, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The 2012 New York Jets will only go as far as their running game takes them.

Yea, you read that correctly.

Even though the only talk about Gang Green lately has been surrounding their two quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, the team’s running game will be the most integral part of the Jets' success this season.

That’s because the Jets' new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, will instill a ground-and-pound style of offense, regardless of which quarterback is on the field. Just look at how many carries Sparano’s running backs have had the past few seasons to see this is clearly the case.

Before becoming the Jets' offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano was the head coach of the Dolphins from 2008-2011. During these four seasons, Sparano’s offense has been top 12 in the league in carries every season.

What proves Sparano’s insistence on running the ball even more is that his team has put up these huge rushing totals without ever having a real dominant rusher to hand the ball off to. Over Sparano’s four years with the Dolphins, only one time did any of his running backs crack the top 10 in the league in rushing yards—Ricky Williams who finished 10th in the league in rushing in 2009.

Sparano will be using a committee of running backs with the Jets, but Shonn Greene, the only established rusher the Jets have on the roster, will be the clear leader of this group. Last season, Greene had a career-high 253 rushing attempts and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time.

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 04:  Shonn Greene #23 of the New York Jets carries the ball against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 4, 2011 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Sparano never officially said this to Greene, but by the looks of their playbook and the emphasis Sparano is putting on him in training camp so far, Greene believes he will be even more the focal point of the offense than he was last season. He said this to The New York Times when asked what he thought of the new plays Sparano has brought to New York,

“We’re going to run that to death until someone stops us,” Greene said, “and I think that’s the type of back I am.”

Since LaDainian Tomlinson has stated he is “95 percent sure” he will retire before the season starts, the Jets will be very thin at running back after Greene. 

Joe McKnight emerged last season as the team’s backup running back and will certainly take on an increased role from last season, but he's still very inexperienced with only 82 carries in his two years in the NFL. It's reported that he gained 16 pounds of muscle this offseason by eating McDonald’s, so we’ll see if the added weight effects the explosiveness he showed glimpses of last season.

If McKnight doesn’t work out, the Jets really have no other options at running back for Sparano to work with. The next two backs on the depth chart, Bilal Powell and Terrance Ganaway, are both young, late-round draft picks from the Jets last two drafts.

No matter how the depth chart looks when the season begins, you can guarantee there will be plenty of carries to go around between the Jets backs. If they succeed, the Jets will make another deep run into the playoffs like they did in 2009 and 2010. If they don’t, it will be a long, disappointing season for Gang Green.