New York's Week 5 started off about as poorly as possible on the ground.
Everything turned into sunshine from there.
But how did a Jets offense that is averaging 135 rushing yards per game explode for more than double that average in Week 5? Let's go Behind The O-Line to find out.
Leaning on a zone-heavy attack punctuated by an athletic front five, New York pounded the ground 35 times between Crowell and Powell. It proved productive against a Broncos defense that entered the week ranked 10th in the NFL against the run, per Pro Football Focus.
In some instances, Crowell made something out of nothing by using his vision to avoid clogged lanes and find open ones for gains. His first carry, for 15 yards, was an excellent example of this.
This type of vision was on full display early in the next quarter, when the first play of the drive went for a 77-yard touchdown run by Crowell.
New York spent much of the afternoon enjoying good surge along the front line, even on the shorter gains. Much of this was achieved thanks to powerful double teams in the interior, with guard James Carpenter and tackle Kelvin Beachum getting an excellent push on Derek Wolfe before Carpenter moved to second level to swallow up linebacker Josey Jewell. Safety Darian Stewart was left to attempt an arm tackle in vain as Crowell raced through the line for a 54-yard gain.
A good amount of New York's ground success can also be attributed to Crowell's burst through the line of scrimmage. Crowell averaged a speed at the line of scrimmage of 11.74 mph in Week 5, the second-best mark in the league behind only Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, according to Next Gen Stats.
Zone runs also worked well for New York, thanks to the play of Carpenter, fellow guard Brian Winters and center Spencer Long. On this third-quarter run, Powell benefits from an excellent two-man attack between Long and Winters. The two team up to shield defensive lineman Zach Kerr, and Winters moves to second level to take care of linebacker Brandon Marshall, opening a crease for Powell to sprint through for a gain of 16.
New York's guards pulled very well in Week 5. Winters did a solid job of working down the line and knocking Von Miller off his course and essentially out of the play on a third-quarter run, but the best pull of the day belonged to Carpenter, who slid down the line before targeting and engaging linebacker Todd Davis, winning the edge and creating a wide lane for Crowell to run through for a 36-yard gain.
Zone runs are popular in the NFL because they allow running backs to improvise when necessary. New York is running a zone concept on 59.3 percent of run plays through five weeks, per Pro Football Focus, and it appears to be working. On the very next play, Powell takes a handoff left before stopping and adjusting course, taking advantage of an overaggressive Denver defense to cut back for a 38-yard gain.
Though this didn't work as designed, it served as an example of New York's versatility up front. A toss to the left called for Beachum to pull out in front, which he executed, but the key was the backside tackle Brandon Shell, who knocked Davis to the ground, eliminating Denver's backside contain and opening a big space for Powell to work.
The game ended with Crowell posting a career day and New York breaking 300 yards rushing on a memorable afternoon in East Rutherford, N.J. A lot of the credit is due to the Jets' backfield of Crowell and Powell, two similar hard runners who at times can use their vision to make an average play into a big one. But the front five are also consistent in executing their blocks, which don't always clear massive paths in stunning fashion, but account for the opposition's defenders. This method also can negate a defensive advantage, with Crowell succeeding on 73.3 percent of runs despite facing an average disadvantage of 0.43 blockers. Powell's 20 carries faced similar odds, with a 0.90 blocking disadvantage but a success rate of 35 percent.
That's enough for Crowell and Powell to make defenses pay, especially when they're too aggressive in defending the run.
If anything, we learned three notes from this game: Crowell is a defined lead back in New York's offense, earning a season-long grade of 83.3, the third-best in the league (behind Cleveland's Nick Chubb and Baker Mayfield) and posting an 89.9 versus the Broncos, the second-best mark in the league for the week (again behind just Mayfield). New York's versatility in the ground game makes for long days for opposing defenses, especially those that struggle against zone schemes. And Denver struggles because of missed tackles, missing five in the loss to the Jets after missing just 12 in the prior four weeks combined (per PFF), allowing for the seven runs of 10-plus yards New York logged in Week 5.
If the Jets continue to ride the tackle-breaking Crowell (he broke four in Week 5) behind an underrated line, more ground-game success should be expected. That can go a long way toward helping rookie quarterback Sam Darnold continue to develop into the franchise signal-caller New York hopes he will be.