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To fix Sanchez, Jets first must fix running game

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

If the Jets don't get their ground game going, Sanchez will be spending more time on the turf. (Getty Images)  
If the Jets don't get their ground game going, Sanchez will be spending more time on the turf. (Getty Images)  

BALTIMORE -- The New York Jets aren't just losing games. They're losing their identity.

Once, this was a team that protected its young quarterback with the league's best rushing attack. But not anymore. Now the Jets can't run, can't pass and can't win -- and all are related. The more the Jets fail to run, the more they lean on Mark Sanchez's arm. And the more they lean on Sanchez, the more opponents attack the pocket and force him into mistakes.

Nowhere was that more apparent than Sunday in a 34-17 shredding by Baltimore, where the Ravens forced Sanchez into four fumbles, an interception and a slew of incompletions in what was one of the most miserable experiences of his pro career. Two of the fumbles were returned for a touchdown. So was the interception.

"We got it handed to us," coach Rex Ryan said.

That's one way of putting it. Another is: They got it handed to them again. One week after getting clobbered by Oakland in a loss that former quarterback Joe Namath termed "humiliating," the Jets were crushed by a Baltimore defense that overwhelmed New York's offensive line and engulfed the embattled Sanchez from the beginning.

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On New York's first snap, safety Ed Reed blitzed untouched from Sanchez's left side, hit him as he cocked to throw the ball, and forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. That was the beginning of a night that would not end, with the Jets hammered so badly they were left dazed and confused, wondering what happened ... to their quarterback, to their offense, to their image.

I'll tell you what: It checked out with that running game. The team that entered Sunday as the league's 25th-ranked rushing attack never got going, producing a season-low 38 yards (and lowest under Ryan) on 19 carries, and, sorry, folks, that's not how you take heat off the quarterback.

"Quarterbacks are going to have these types of games," Ryan said afterward. "It starts with: You've got to have the protection first and all that. We've got to look hard and deep at what we're going and how we're protecting the quarterback and everything else, and we will."

I suggest they look first at how they're not looking at protecting the quarterback, and I'm talking about that rushing attack. Shonn Greene hasn't done much of anything since the end of 2009. LaDainian Tomlinson has been descending since a hot first half of 2010. And Joe McKnight made more of an impact as a returner (he had one of the Jets' two touchdowns Sunday) than he has as a running back.

In short, the running game doesn't run. In fact, in the second half Sunday, the Jets didn't gain anything with their running backs. Instead, they lost a yard.

"Teams adapt and study film," Sanchez said. "When they see something that's not working for you, they're going to test you. We'll just have to test them. There's a lot of work to be done and a lot of improvements to be made."

CBSSports.com Grades
New York Jets
New York Jets
The Jets desperately need C Nick Mangold 100 percent and back on the field as soon as possible. The OL was in disarray all game as it was unable to give QB Mark Sanchez (11-35, 119 yards, 1 INT) any time to find WRs down the field. The Jets' defense scored a touchdown and forced three turnovers. But the offense looked like a Pop Warner team breaking in a new roster.
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
The defense was lights out, scoring three defensive TDs en route to a 34-17 victory. CB Lardarius Webb, LB Jarret Johnson and LB Jameel McClain all scored TDs, making the scoring summary a tad bizarre. However, QB Joe Flacco struggled all night, going 10-31 for 163 yards and an INT. Baltimore's defense bailed its offense out big time.
By Jason Butt
RapidReports Correspondent

Having center Nick Mangold return from an ankle injury will help an offensive line that has been handicapped, but the Jets weren't running all that well even when he was in the lineup -- and, yeah, that's a concern. Once upon a time, opponents had to respect the Jets' running game. Now they don't, and that's not just a problem for Mark Sanchez; it's a problem for a team that billed itself as the league's "team to beat."

Well, maybe it is ... only not as it envisioned. Oakland beat the Jets last week. Now it's Baltimore. Next, it could be New England. But it's not losing games that should bother the Jets; it's losing their swagger, and that starts up front with an offensive line that used to open holes for the NFL's best rushing attack and one of its promising young quarterbacks.

Now that quarterback is getting beaten up as the Jets run to nowhere, and that better change if the Jets are serious about keeping another date for the AFC championship game. You think I'm kidding? Then you must've missed Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata describe how the Ravens "rattled" Sanchez, forcing him into mistakes the Jets couldn't overcome.

"We wanted to get him to try and beat us in this game," he said. "Once we knew they were going to start passing, we just pinned our ears back and tried to get to him as fast as we could. I think we rattled him and got him off his mark."

I think they rattled the entire Jets ballclub. New York is not used to losing, and it is not used to losing two straight on the road. But the Jets have, and I'm telling you if they don't find someone, something, to take the heat off Sanchez, it could be a season of discontent and disappointment.

"We really need to think long about this tonight and tomorrow," defensive back Darrelle Revis said, "and figure out where we want to be and what we want to do. It's not very exciting around here right now. We've got to find ways to win and correct the mistakes that we make."

They have to find a way to run and open the holes they don't make, too. Do that, and maybe, just maybe, they wind up protecting their quarterback.

Ryan said he "believes" in Sanchez, and he should. He took them to two conference championship games in two years. But he must give Sanchez something to believe in, too, and that something is a running game that works.


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