Over the past four weeks, the New York Jets have received very steady production from their running game. The Jets have rushed for over 100 yards in seven of their previous eight games, and four games straight.
At the forefront of the attack are running backs Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, and those two will certainly be at the forefront of any success the Jets have in the final three weeks, whether they make the playoffs or not.
The two backs have combined to run for 534 yards on 130 carries (4.1 YPA) and five touchdowns.
Those are not devastating numbers, but the Jets have been effective enough running the ball to mask the other problems on their team. Unless the quarterback situation magically corrects itself, they'll need to lean on performances like these from their running game for awhile.
"Lean" may be putting it lightly.
As a team, the Jets have run the ball 155 times in the past four games; the Jets are finally executing the ground-and-pound to their liking because the workload is being split between Powell and Greene, and also because the offensive line is blocking better in recent weeks.
Just look at the effort from Shonn Greene on this running play on 2nd-and-5, which gained 19 yards. The Cardinals knew the run was coming, with eight men in the box to start and a safety creeping toward the line of scrimmage.
Even on what looked like a dead play, Greene kept his legs moving, and eventually bounced outside.
Greene has often been criticized for running into the backs of his offensive linemen (his quarterback can relate), but one thing that can't be criticized is his effort. His second effort, and his ability to get into the open field, helped the Jets keep this drive alive, and the drive would eventually kill the clock and Arizona's hopes of a comeback.
The ability to make something out of nothing is an element that's been missing from Greene's game for quite some time, as noted by noteworthy NFL Films guru Greg Cosell this offseason:
There's no question that there's no creativity to his running, and when I say creativity, you don't have to be incredibly elusive. But, you're right, he's not a guy who's really going to make people miss. I think there's no way you can be an elite back or a top-level back if you can't make unblocked defenders miss. Because in the run game, there's always going to be a defender that can't be blocked. That's what teams do, defensively. You must be able to make unblocked defenders miss. He's not gonna do that.
He did that time.
Don't be mistaken, though; Greene and Powell have both enjoyed a good deal of help from the offensive line.
Powell had 46 yards on seven carries on a touchdown drive that began at the end of the third quarter.
The first of those three carries went for seven yards on first down.
Because of excellent directional blocks from center Nick Mangold and guard Matt Slauson, Powell has a massive hole to run through even before he receives the handoff. With right tackle Austin Howard and tight end Konrad Reuland pulling through the A-gap, I could have driven a steamroller through that gap.
Powell has a bit more burst than your average steamroller, though, and gets a full head of steam before Jaguars safety Dawan Landry can make the hit, with Powell's forward momentum carrying him the remaining three yards after the initial contact.
The offensive line played much better in the second half against the Jaguars than it did in the first half, thanks in part to a halftime speech from guard Brandon Moore (via the Newark Star-Ledger):
"He got us together there at halftime and told us, 'Guys, however you think you played in that first half, we've got to amp it up because we're not getting it done,' " [right tackle Austin] Howard said in relaying Moore's message. "'What we've done so far has gotten us zero points. So we've got to come together and get the offense rolling.'
"We feel it's all on us, the offensive line. Every game, every play, every inch — we've got to be better than the guys across from us. The coaches have told us, how our offensive line goes, so goes our offense. We will be as successful as those of us on the offensive line play."
Partly as a result of that improved push up front, the Jets offense delivered 116 yards on 26 carries (4.5 YPA) in the second half to help lift the Jets to a victory.
Give the backs some credit, though; Powell put his solid vision to work on the key run of the drive, a 3rd-and-5 carry that netted 10 yards.
Once again, Powell lined up as the lone back in a jumbo set, and the Jaguars responded with five men at the line of scrimmage and eight men total in the box, with a safety creeping up to the line of scrimmage again.
Powell took the handoff up the middle, and with a few chop-steps along the way, picked his way through traffic for 10 yards to set up the game-sealing touchdown on the next play.
The Jets backs haven't been spectacular, but have been remarkably consistent, far more so than at any point this season. They are getting the most out of the current group.
If the Jets want to continue to be successful on offense for the remainder of the season, they must continue to be consistent with the running game, both in the volume of carries and in the production yielded from those carries.
As for the long-term future of these backs, the writing may be on the wall.
Powell's workload has increased dramatically in recent weeks, with the second-year back getting more carries in the past four games than in the previous seven games combined (he missed two games due to injury). Powell has also earned nearly the same share of the offensive snaps as his veteran counterpart.
Greene's contract is due to expire at the end of the season, and unless the team negotiates a long-term deal for him, he will enter free agency. Considering the fact that his YPA has dipped slowly over the course of his career, that doesn't seem likely, but anything is possible with the way the Jets handle their personnel.
For now, though, performances like what we've seen from the Jets' two-headed backfield in recent weeks will be essential if the team is going to make a push for the postseason.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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