Running the football hasn't been quite as easy for New York.
Only seven other teams in the NFL have gained fewer yards on the ground than the Jets. That kind of production (or lack thereof) would seem to play into the hands of the Ravens defense, which ranks sixth against the rush.
But outside linebacker Terrell Suggs cautioned against reading too much into New York's low numbers as the Ravens prepare to welcome the Jets to M&T Bank Stadium for a nationally-televised showdown Sunday night.
"I think they're definitely going to try to get that back on this week," Suggs said Wednesday. "We know them, they know us, and it's definitely a macho-man type [deal]. The toughest man will win. … They're definitely going to come back. They want a rematch. It's going to be a prize fight."
New York is averaging just 82.0 rushing yards through three games this season. The offense's average of 24.3 rushing attempts is tied for 20th.
The tandem of starter Shonn Greene and backup LaDainian Tomlinson has combined for just 196 yards on 58 attempts, which averages to 3.4 yards per carry.
Although league rules seem to facilitate production through the air, having an effective running attack is a benefit to teams as it can consume time, give the defense a chance to rest, and keep opposing offenses on the sideline.
"When a team is able to do both [run and pass], they're able to control the clock and build momentum," Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "You just don't want them to be able to control that aspect of the game."
In his first year as the starter, Greene has been unimpressive, failing to crack the 60-yard mark thus far. But the Jets have been mediocre on the ground for almost a year as the offense has not had a 100-yard rusher in a game since Tomlinson and Greene gained 133 and 117 yards, respectively, in a 24-point rout of the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 3, 2010.
New York's reliance on the run game is further complicated by seemingly conflicting comments from coach Rex Ryan, who — during his conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday morning — said a team's success can be linked to its rushing game.
"With most teams, you have to be able to run the football," he said. "It helps your defense, it helps when you do get ahead, and I think it opens up opportunities in the passing game like the vertical passing game."
But the day after quarterback Mark Sanchez threw 43 times in a 34-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders, Ryan sounded as if he had a different philosophy.
"I think as long as you're able to move the ball effectively, you don't have to run it or you don't have to throw it," Ryan said Monday. "You'd like to be in a situation where, I looked at Baltimore [Sunday], they were throwing it all over the place. I think they had 403 yards at halftime — that's at halftime, by the way. This week, are you going to run it against [Ravens defensive tackle] Haloti Ngata over and over and against [inside linebacker] Ray Lewis? We'll probably have to throw it more than we want."
The numbers already seem to bear out Ryan's latter statement. According to a blog on the team's website, Sanchez has attempted 120 passes (including times sacked), while the offense has handed the ball off just 73 times. That's 62.2 percent of the snaps devoted to throwing the ball, which is the highest percentage in a three-game stretch under Ryan, according to the blog.
That suits the Ravens just fine, Ray Lewis said.
"Anytime we make you one-dimensional, then we can pretty much get after your quarterback the way we dictated," the 12-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker said. "That's kind of the thing we've had around here for many years. We really pride ourselves on stopping the run, by making sure nobody comes to create that mentality because once you start letting that build up, then everything comes. The play action comes open and then all those different things. But if you take that one aspect away, then you can really get after people's quarterbacks."
The Jets' prospects of righting the ship might be more difficult if Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold misses his second consecutive game due to a high right ankle sprain. New York — with rookie Colin Baxter starting for Mangold — did manage to rush for 100 yards against the Raiders, whose rush defense was ranked 27th in the NFL prior to last Sunday.
Still, for all of the struggles the Jets have had on the ground, Greene and Tomlinson are still capable of breaking loose. Ignoring New York's potential in the run game is not part of the Ravens' defensive plan, according to Johnson.
"They're a very capable running team," he said. "For some reason, they haven't been real consistent, but they're going to stick with it and come out and try to run the ball. You just can't let them get started."