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The New York Jets Need Their Normally Stout Offensive Line to Regain Their Usual Form

Anyone who’s watched the New York Jets this season knows that things haven’t gone as smoothly as the Jets have hoped.

While the Jets defense was mostly to blame for their Week 3 loss to the Raiders, it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops on offense either.

Even in the Jets two victories, they’ve struggled to run the football. It was a bit of concern in Week 1 and Week 2, but after the loss last Sunday it’s become a red flag. But why has the Jets “ground-and-pound” been so ineffective?

It’s not Shonn Greene’s fault, although he definitely has room for improvement. The big concern is the normally stout offensive line that seems to have a hit a wall to start the 2011 season.

According to Pro Football Focus, one of the great football sites around, the Jets had the best offensive line in football each of the past two seasons.

In 2009, PFF ranked the Jets first in run blocking and second in pass blocking among all 32 teams. I’ve written before about how great that 2009 line was, and there was no doubt about it, that unit was special.

They reached the AFC Championship game with a rookie quarterback, and the reason (offensively at least) was their incredible offensive line that afforded Mark Sanchez the luxury of the elite running game, as well the time in the pocket he needed to make the big throws when called upon.

In 2010, it was more of the same. PFF ranked the Jets offensive line first in both pass blocking and run blocking with the addition of left guard Matt Slauson replacing the departed Alan Faneca.

At the time, (the 2010 rankings were posted in July of 2011) PFF praised how great the Jets linemen were, saying “you could pick out four fifths of the starters, put them on any team, and the likelihood is they’d be the best offensive lineman on it. That’s how good they are.”

Yet, so far in 2011, they have been anything but great. According to their analysis, aside from D’Brickashaw Fergurson (who has emerged as one of the most outstanding tackles in the NFL) it’s been a struggle for the whole line.

I wrote a few weeks about new right tackle Wayne Hunter, who had trouble filling the massive shoes of the since retired Damien Woody. Through three weeks, he’s been awful.

He’s ranked 25th among all starting right tackles in pass blocking, and his run blocking has been nothing special either. While he’s never going to be Damien Woody, the Jets are stuck with him now for better or for worse, and they need him to be better.

The injury to Nick Mangold has understandably killed the Jets. Colin Baxter is no Nick Mangold, because nobody is Nick Mangold. PFF called him a “once-in-a-generation type player” in their 2010 OL rankings piece.

But the loss of Mangold has apparently affected right guard Brandon Moore, who has gotten some terrible ratings from the PFF staff this season after offseason hip surgery. Per PFF’s look back at the Jets’ Week 3 game:

The Jets need a return to form from Brandon Moore, who was a top five rated right guard at PFF last year.  So far this year, Moore has failed to impress anyone, and his struggles have helped the Jets post a poor 2.8 yards per carry when running between the right guard and the centre this season.

That is a major concern, to say the least. It’s not as if the Jets can just pick-up All-Pro linemen off the street and fix their offensive line woes. They need their guys to step up and play like the players they’re capable of being.

If they don’t, forget about the Super Bowl. The Jets will struggle to make the playoffs at all if they continue to get the subpar line play they’ve gotten so far this season.

With games against the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots coming up next, it won’t get any easier any time soon. Even Mangold himself wasn’t playing his best football prior to his injury.

On the bright side, it’s probably something that will improve as the season goes on. When Mangold returns (he’s a gametime decision for Sunday’s game at Baltimore) the five of them will begin to gel and work in sync as a unit again.

Once that happens, I’d expect major improvement. Otherwise, it’s not going to be pretty. Mark Sanchez wasn’t hit very often the past two seasons, and he’s already gotten bruised, battered and had his nose broken behind the struggling line.

Strong offensive line play is often what separates the good teams from the great ones. It truly makes everybody on the offense better, from the quarterback who gets more time to execute plays, to the receivers who have time to run deeper routes, and of course the running backs who get room to run.

The play of the offensive line will correlate with the play of the entire offense. That’s the reality of the 2011 Jets. The better they are, the better the Jets will be.

Those five guys are usually overlooked by the casual fan, but make no mistake. They are the most important players on offense. The Jets need them to regain their usual form. Quickly.