FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — LaDainian Tomlinson is ready to run.
So is Shonn Greene.
With temperatures dropping and the heat of the playoff push building, this is the time of year for which the New York Jets’ run-first, all-weather offense was made.
“It’s cold weather out there and we’re going to want to attack defenses with our run style,” Greene said Friday, “and kind of try to ground and pound them like we did last year.”
Ground and pound. It’s a phrase coach Rex Ryan has often used to describe his offensive approach since he took over nearly two years ago. He has always been old-school in that way, believing team success is built on a dominant defense and a running game that punishes opponents.
“Obviously, I love to run the football,” Ryan said. “Hopefully, that will pick up.”
The Jets (9-3) hit the ground running last season, using their top-ranked rushing attack with Greene and Thomas Jones to carry them all the way to the AFC championship game. Jones is gone, replaced by Tomlinson, and so, it seems, is the emphasis on the running game lately.
New York ran the ball 607 times in the regular season a year ago and threw it 393 times. Through 12 games this season, the Jets have 396 rushes and 399 passes. It’s a more-balanced approach that has been mostly successful, but New York knows it needs to get back to its roots down the stretch.
“Obviously, that’s the way Rex Ryan wants it to be, a run-first team that really can pound you,” Tomlinson said. “So I believe that’s what we are.”
The statistics say the Jets still are heavily reliant on the running game since they rank fourth in the NFL in rushing. Tomlinson is 10th in the AFC with 788 yards rushing, topping his total from last season in San Diego, and Greene is 14th with 639 yards — nearly 100 yards better than his rookie year.
But, New York used the running game to dictate games last season, when it chewed up the clock and kept opposing defenses on the field gasping for air.
“I think we’re throwing it more this year,” Ryan said, “but I think we’re very effective in the rushing part.”
But not dominant.
“I feel like we’re a physical team,” Tomlinson said. “That’s the way we’ve been built, to be physical.”
So far, the Jets have had five games in which they’ve had more passes than runs, and five where it’s been the opposite. They’ve had the same number of runs and throws in two games this season.
“I think it’s more of an execution thing,” Greene said. “No matter which plays are called, whether it’s running or throwing, we just need to execute a little bit better and let everything else fall into place.”
New York averaged 4.5 yards per carry in the regular season a year ago. The Jets have the same average this season. So is there really that much of a difference?
Well, the approach on offense has indeed changed as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s confidence in Mark Sanchez’s ability to manage the passing game has grown. Having a trio of receivers such as Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery surely makes it tempting to throw the ball more often.
“We definitely want to be able to let the run game set up our passing game, but we talk about it all the time,” Tomlinson said. “We want to be an all-weather football team, and that’s being able to run and pass it.”
The weather forecast for this Sunday calls for rain and temperatures in the upper-40s or low-50s at the Meadowlands when the Jets play the Dolphins (6-6). Miami is ranked ninth in the league in run defense, and New York’s next two opponents on the road in cold-weather cities — Pittsburgh (first) and Chicago (second) — are even better.
“In these next several weeks, we’re facing some really good run defenses,” Ryan said. “Still, I have confidence in our running game. I think our backs are healthy. I think we’re in a good spot.”
Greene believes the Jets will be more committed to the run down the stretch for the simple fact that they saw how well it worked last season.
“Running the ball is one of our specialties,” he said. “A lot of defenses out there, they know that.”
Including the Dolphins, who saw plenty of Tomlinson and Greene in a 31-23 loss to the Jets in Week 3.
“It’s imperative that they don’t rush the ball for the 146 yards that they rushed it against us the last time,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “The combination of the two of those runners make them really rough to defend, and we’re going to have to do that.”
So, this week might be the perfect time to let Sanchez hand the ball off more than he has lately and watch his running backs make plays against Miami.
“They are going to have a lot to say about that,” Ryan said of the Dolphins. “I think we’ve had some success throwing the football against Miami as well, so it’ll probably be similar to how we’ve been playing.”
Ryan doesn’t want to give away any of the game plan, but his intentions are clear.
“It’s more balanced,” Ryan said of the offense. “But, again, I always like to be able to run the ball.”