The Jets enter Sunday’s game ranked No. 2 in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 159.2 yards per game, and feature one of the best running-back duos in the league in LaDainian Tomlinson (490 yards) and Shonn Greene (323). New York is one of only two teams in the league, along with Kansas City, to have two running backs with 300-plus yards through Week 7, and its average of 4.95 yards per carry ranks No. 3 in the NFL.
“For what the scheme is, they do it well,” said nose tackle Howard Green, who the Packers claimed off waivers from the Jets on Wednesday to provide some depth on the line. “I have been there for two years and I have had a chance to learn and see and watch, and they block well up front. They have two good backs to complement that. They are going to run hard and they are going to block hard. You just have to stop that, man-on-man.”
Complicating the challenge is the fact that starting defensive ends Cullen Jenkins (calf) and Ryan Pickett (ankle) are both questionable for Sunday’s game because of their injuries. Jenkins missed last Sunday’s game against Minnesota after getting hurt in pre-game warm-ups, while Pickett was limited to just seven plays last Sunday after aggravating his injury that he originally sustained in Week 5 at Washington.
Down to just three healthy defensive linemen, second-year nose tackle B.J. Raji played every snap but three, and rookie defensive end C.J. Wilson (40 snaps) and second-year end Jarius Wynn (36) saw significant action.
With the short-handed line, the Packers gave up 196 rushing yards on 36 attempts (5.4 avg.), the highest single-game yardage total in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ two seasons in Green Bay. Running back Adrian Peterson accounted for 131 of those yards, which snapped the defense’s streak of 19 straight games without allowing 100 yards by an opposing running back, the second-longest streak in team annals since the merger.
The task doesn’t get any easier Sunday against New York’s ground game led by the veteran Tomlinson, who is enjoying a bit of a renaissance after posting career-low numbers in his final season in San Diego last season. The 31-year-old back rushed for just 730 yards in ‘09, snapping a streak of eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and registered just an average of just 3.3 yards per carry as he battled an ankle injury that forced him to miss two games early in the season.
New York’s offensive line is led by center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who both earned Pro Bowl recognition in 2009. The Jets had the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack last season, averaging 168.7 yards per game, and were paced by veteran Thomas Jones and his career-high 1,402 rushing yards, but the team elected to release Jones in March and sign Tomlinson.
“(Tomlinson) has been absolutely tremendous,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. “We thought he was going to be great and outstanding when we picked him up. Obviously we wouldn’t have picked him up, we wouldn’t have let Thomas Jones go if we didn’t really believe in ‘LT,’ but he’s even been better than we thought.”
Tomlinson has rushed for 490 yards in six games, and his average of 5.3 yards per carry ranks No. 4 in the NFL among running backs with 75 attempts or more. He has eclipsed the 70-yard mark in four of six games, including a season-high 133 yards on just 19 attempts (7.0 avg.) at Buffalo in Week 4.
“He looks great right now, “Jenkins said. “He is running hard, he looks as quick as ever. Some of those moves I have seen him hit on some of the players that they have gone against, it looks like he is back in his younger 20s.”
Jenkins hopeful for Sunday
Jenkins made it through a rehab session with the team’s strength coaches on Friday and also did some individual drills with defensive line coach Mike Trgovac.
“Coming off of what I did today, yeah, it feels like it will be good enough (to play),” Jenkins said. “There are a lot of positives that came out of the tests and the working out that we did. The biggest problem with it is mental, especially coming off the injury in training camp and knowing how that one took, it kind of made me a little paranoid. So you just have to get comfortable with it.”
Jenkins missed the final two preseason games because of a calf strain in his other leg, and said he has been having issues with both calves this season for the first time in his career. He said the injuries could be attributed to the amount of jogging he did this summer in an effort to keep his weight down, and the one sustained last Sunday came as part of his normal warm-up routine.
“I think when I did a little turn-the-toe exercise that I do where I try to really turn my ankle and simulate how I would turn the edge as a rusher, I went down off of that and after I came up it was a little sore and stiff,” Jenkins said. “But I figured it wasn’t anything out of the norm because I have been having those issues with my calves since training camp.
“Right before I get ready to leave the field I figured I would open up and jog and try to jog about the length of the field or so and get my stride open. The second I tried to open my stride up and jog, it just grabbed on me and went.”
It is the second injury Jenkins has had to battle this year after breaking his left hand in the season opener at Philadelphia. There is at least some good news on that front since Jenkins said the plan for him against the Vikings was to wear a smaller cast that would give him more mobility in his wrist.
Facing a prolific rushing offense like the Jets' on Sunday, Jenkins said there is a certain amount of pressure he puts on himself to play, but wants to make sure he can contribute if he is on the field.
“You want to go out there and be able to play and be able to produce,” Jenkins said. “I guess any type of input you can do on the field, but at the same time you don’t want to hurt them. You don’t want to say you’re ready and then not be ready and then leave them kind of short-handed.
“We’re going to take tonight until tomorrow and see how it feels coming off of the day today, and it will probably still be until Sunday before they make a final decision.”
One player that won’t return from injury on Sunday is veteran cornerback Al Harris, who has spent the entire season on the physically unable to perform list as he has worked his way back from a significant knee injury sustained in Week 11 last season.
Harris practiced for the second straight week, but McCarthy said he would not be activated for the Jets game. A decision on the availability of safety Atari Bigby, who has also been on the PUP list all season following August ankle surgery, has not been made yet but is expected to be finalized on Saturday.
“It’s just when I think they’re ready,” McCarthy said. “I’m sure they think they’re ready. But when it’s time for them to come up, it will clearly be the head coach’s decision.”
Green, who didn’t make it to Green Bay in time for practice on Thursday because of travel issues, was on the field for Friday’s practice and is expected to be active on Sunday.
“I’m pretty comfortable right now,” Green said. “Just not running calls together, that’s the biggest thing because some calls sound the same from different places, New York, and just making the difference between the two. But other than that, technique is technique.”
Jenkins, Pickett and tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) are questionable for Sunday.
Tackle Chad Clifton (knee), safety Nick Collins (knee), wide receiver Donald Driver (quadriceps), guard/tackle Marshall Newhouse (back) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) are probable.
Driver was a limited participant on Friday after not practicing at all on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Donald looked good today,” McCarthy said. “We practiced him in a limited fashion. Really, what he’s going through with his quad, we’ll see how he feels in the morning. I think he’s in the same place as he was this time last week. I look for him to recover and be fine in the morning.”
For the Jets, Mangold (shoulder), linebacker Calvin Pace (foot) and cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) all participated fully in Friday’s practice and are probable.
Additional coverage – Oct. 29