Sanchez gets pounded because the run game is grounded

Every morning on my way to work, I stop by the local Dunkin Donuts for my morning coffee. Working behind the counter is Mohammad, a huge football fan and a devoted Jets backer. After each game, Mohammad is either planning a Super Bowl trip or hoping the Jets clean house. There is no in-between for him, which is why he is such a great fan. The only player that does not ride Mohammad's rollercoaster is Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Mohammad, like many Jets fans, blames all the team's problems on Sanchez and wants him gone. Mohammad does not care that the Jets have no viable option at quarterback right now; he just wants Sanchez out.

Sanchez has taken a beating this year, as has offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Both are subject to much hostility from Jets fans who feel the team has let them down. But is the Jets' lack of offensive production the fault of these two men? Hardly.

The number one thing an organization must do is to find out not what the quarterback can do well, but rather what he can't do. The Jets identified early on that they wanted to manage Sanchez, as they did not want his arm to carry the team. The key to the offense would be its physical nature. When Sanchez was a rookie in 2009, the Jets were a top rushing team, averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry. The Jets rushed for more than 130 yards in 12 games, with two games of more than 300 yards rushing. They had at least 150 yards rushing in each of their final five games, the last of which was a loss to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The Jets had found a formula for winning with Sanchez, and it was dubbed "Ground and Pound."

In 2010, even after losing top rusher Thomas Jones, the Jets still averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but they were not as dominating as they had been in '09. The desecration of their running game was starting, but the staff did a good job of hiding the problems. And they made a strong stretch run before losing in another conference championship game. Once again, the Jets' winning identity included running the ball and not putting too much on Sanchez.

Yet in 2011, this all changed. The Jets cannot run the ball effectively; they rank 30th in the NFL in rushing average and their longest run of the season is just 25 yards. How did this happen? The Jets believed that Shonn Greene was their star back, that he could carry the offense because he was so good in '09 during the playoff run. Yet Greene is not a big-time, full-time back. He has proved that this year. He is more of a change-of-pace back, as he struggles to catch and make explosive plays, and his lack of run skills puts the burden back on the quarterback and play-caller. The Jets need a great runner if they want to continue to keep Sanchez as their quarterback.

Right now, the Jets are a horse and buggy offense, as they cannot make big plays down the field. Every drive must be 10 perfect plays, as they lack explosion. For all the talk and hoopla around their signing of receiver Plaxico Burress to give them more big-play ability at receiver, he has failed to deliver. In fact, he is only a threat in the red zone, where he can use his size to create separation. He is slow on tape and there is not a corner in the league who is afraid to challenge him. Therefore, the coverage is rolled to Santonio Holmes, whose yards per reception average (12.8) is down almost two yards from his career average. With no one on the other side to help take away the coverage, Holmes' longest play of the season is just 35 yards.

Sanchez does have to shoulder some of the blame for the Jets' offensive woes. He is not a quick reader of the progression, therefore with every call, Schottenheimer has to tell him where to expect the open man. If the call is a bad one, then Sanchez starts to panic and looks nervous. The most effective pass play he runs is the fake handoff, deep crosser, which has no read -- just fake and come out throwing. The more Sanchez has to read off the play, the better chance the play has to break down. Therefore, the Jets must keep things simple. A simple offense with no explosive players and no run game will never produce, which is why the Jets rank 27th overall.

But the Jets know all this. They know they need to run the ball, they know they need to limit Sanchez, and they know they need to win with defense and their kicking game. Their model for success is exactly what the 49ers have created this season. But there are differences between the Jets and 49ers, mainly in their personnel. The 49ers have better runners and the 49ers have much better players in their front seven on defense. For the Jets to win, they have to improve their talent base.

Last week, I wrote that coach Rex Ryanmust be more realistic in his statements about his team. And even though he won't change his rhetoric publicly, he must change internally. He has to find a way to improve the roster, improve his talent base and build the right kind of team around Sanchez, since he has already proclaimed him his lifetime starter.

Schottenheimer will take the fall for the offense's problems; even though Ryan has publicly supported him, he won't be back with the Jets. But this is not all Schottenheimer's fault. Until the Jets realize what kind of team they need to be around Sanchez, then the next coordinator will have the same problems. The fault is not always in the scheme, as the talent -- or lack of talent in this case -- has played a huge part. The hardest thing to do in the NFL is to evaluate your own team. This is what Ryan must do really well this offseason. In spite of what he says to all of us, he at least better be honest with himself.

My first 15

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  1. Kyle Orton is returning to Denver and might keep the Broncos out of the playoffs if he plays well. This never would have happened had Al Davis been in charge. Davis never wanted to trade a player to an AFC West rival or to any team on the schedule that season. He did not want any player to come back and haunt him. John Elway is new to the job as an executive, and if Orton comes back to beat him, he will learn a valuable lesson. I know the Broncos say they realized this could happen; in reality, did they think this game would mean this much? I doubt it.
  1. Speaking of Orton, the Chiefs will make an effort to sign him this offseason and bring him back for another year to compete with starter Matt Cassel. And staying in K.C. might be the best option for Orton if he wants to be a starter.
  1. Mike Shanahan said this week he fully expects to be back as the head coach of the Redskins. The Skins enter year three of the Shanahan regime still without properly solving the quarterback issue. The biggest mistake new coaches make when taking over a bad program is to not draft a quarterback, which gives everyone hope and faith that the program is headed in the right direction. Now, Shanahan must hope he wins next year so that whatever quarterback he coaches can still count on him being there in year five. This would be the first time in owner Daniel Snyder's tenure that he has had two consecutive sub seven-win seasons without changing head coaches. Steve Spurrier went 5-11 and then Joe Gibbs took over to go 6-10. In the past three years, the Skins have failed to win more than six games. Changes are coming in D.C. -- maybe not at the head coaching level, but there will be staff changes.
  1. Everyone in the Rams' building fully expects to be gone at the end of the season, but that won't be the case with quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford will know soon that the Rams won't be picking a quarterback with the first or second pick and that they will hopefully parlay that pick into a much-needed infusion of talent. If the Rams play their cards right, they can make a great trade, as so many teams will be desperate to move into the top five to get a quarterback. One of them will be the Skins, who might have to pay any price to acquire their franchise quarterback.
  1. The word around the league is that the Browns might hire an offensive coordinator to help head coach Pat Shurmur run the offense. If they do, that coach will surely have an extensive background in the West Coast system.
  1. Don't expect the Browns to go out of their way to sign running back Peyton Hillis to an extension. After this season, the Browns are reluctant to place a huge deal in front of Hillis.
  1. The top free agent in the NFL might not be a player but a coach. Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan will be a coaching free agent and he will be in high demand as great offensive line coaches are hard to find. Callahan was wanted last year by the Titans to be their offensive coordinator, but the Jets, as is their right, did not grant permission because Callahan still had another year on his deal. Now, with his contract expiring, expect his phone to heat up.
  1. Look for Rob Chudzinski of the Panthers to get several interviews for a head coaching job based on his work with Cam Newton this year. Chudzinski is a hot name right now among head coaching candidates.
  1. The Bengals must win against the Ravens in order to make the playoffs. And the key will be to pass protect as well as they did when they played in Baltimore last month. Credit line coach Paul Alexander for doing a great job in his protection schemes against the Ravens and for his ability to get the most out of his players.
  1. Something tells me the next head coach at Penn State will come from the pro ranks. It will not be Titans coach Mike Munchak, who has said publicly he is not leaving Tennessee. But with all the stalling Penn State has done, it seems probable to me that they are waiting for the end of the NFL season to announce their hire.
  1. Speaking of college coaches, Oregon's Chip Kelly will be on several teams' research lists for a head job next season, even though he has never coached in the NFL. Now, I don't want to imply Kelly is looking for a pro job or hurt his recruiting in any way. All I am suggesting is that his name is being considered. Nothing more. And he has earned consideration based on the work he has done at Oregon.
  1. The word out of Tampa seems to indicate that Raheem Morris will be coaching his last game on Sunday. The conventional thought before last week was to give him another year, but after his team's showing in Carolina, there seems to be no choice for the Bucs to make.
  1. Just based on the way Bills receiver Stevie Johnson plays against Darrelle Revis of the Jets, expect an AFC East team to make a strong run at him this offseason. Johnson is looking for a big contract and should get a great deal. He is tough to handle.
  1. Mike Martz is not expected back with the Bears even though head coach Lovie Smith seems annoyed with all the questions. Martz has told people that he did not sign an extension and is not going back. Who would the Bears go after? Maybe Jay Cutler's former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who is now available. Last time the Bears had a position open they wanted to talk to Bates, but he took the Seattle job before they had a chance.
  1. This is the last game for Jason Taylor and could be the last one for LaDainian Tomlinson. Both are great players, both had a profound impact on the game and on their teams. I loved watching Taylor rush around the edge using his length and speed to create havoc on the opposing passer. And LT was a marvel to watch and surely is Hall of Fame worthy.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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