Commentary

Tomlinson takes over in Jets backfield

What can Greene do for the ground game? Not enough in the first three weeks.

Updated: September 29, 2010, 7:15 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

That didn't take long.

After only three games, LaDainian Tomlinson has replaced Shonn Greene as the No. 1 running back on the New York Jets. In the interest of political correctness, the coaches probably will try to talk around that, saying the two runners are interchangeable, but playing time speaks louder than words.

In Sunday night's clutch win over the Miami Dolphins, Tomlinson was on the field for 45 plays to Greene's 14, unofficially. In fact, Tomlinson made his first start as a Jet.

This was an unexpected development. When the Jets signed Tomlinson in March, it was widely assumed that he'd be a backup to Greene, who seemingly had ascended to the feature-back role after his impressive playoff performance.

LaDainian Tomlinson
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireLaDainian Tomlinson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry through his first three games with the Jets.

What we have now is a case of over and under. Tomlinson, coming off his worst season as a pro, has exceeded expectations. Greene, not running with the same explosiveness as a year ago, has fallen short of expectations.

Maybe that costly fumble in the opener and the subsequent benching in the second half got into Greene's head. Let's be honest; it was a quick hook. Maybe he's being tentative, trying too hard not to fumble again. Whatever the reason, he hasn't been able to keep up with the 31-year-old Tomlinson, who has only seven more carries than Greene (37 to 30) but nearly twice as many yards (208 to 106).

The lack of versatility in Greene's game could be a big factor in the disparity. He's regarded as a first- and second-down back and a between-the-tackles runner, restricting Brian Schottenheimer's play calling.

"In terms of defending him, you feel like you know exactly what you're facing -- an inside running back," an NFL personnel executive said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "You can equally meet him downhill and not feel a matchup threat on the perimeter ... so the multiplicity diminishes."

Stopping Greene is "easier said than done because he can do well [as an inside runner], but he's less of a fully dimensional threat to a defense than Tomlinson can be," the executive added. "He's a bigger back that can wear down a defense, but less effective when forced sideline to sideline."

The Jets tried to change it up late in the Miami game, sending Greene around the right end on their final drive. He gained 7 yards but came up limping and took himself out. It's nothing serious, according to coach Rex Ryan, who agreed that the offense is somewhat predictable with Greene in the backfield.

"People are definitely keying on him," Ryan said. "When he's in the game, they're expecting downhill, inside runs, things like that."

Schottenheimer said from the outset that he'll go with the hot back. After three weeks, it's not the player you thought it would be.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT US: When you're an offensive player on a Ryan-coached team, you feel sort of like the red-headed stepchild. It's all about defense, always has been, always will be. But over the past two games, the Jets' offense has made an impressive statement, producing 59 points and 738 total yards. It no longer wants to be viewed as an albatross.

"Offensively, we don't want to be known as a team that just gets a couple of field goals and barely slides by because we have such a great defense," Dustin Keller said. "We also want to be known as a great offense. ... After two games, we can't say this offense is great yet, but I think we're in a good position to get better and better. By the end of the year, we might be one of the top offenses."

The timing couldn't be better. With injuries to defensive stalwarts Darrelle Revis, Calvin Pace and Kris Jenkins (out for the season), Ryan knows his beloved defense needs an early-season pick-me-up. The offense, for a change, is providing it.

KELLER A MATCHUP NIGHTMARE: Keller is driving defenses crazy because he can line up anywhere in the formation.

Against the Dolphins, the tight end's six catches came from five spots in the formation: left slot, split right (24-yard touchdown), in-line left (12-yard touchdown), flexed to the left and right slot.

On those receptions, Keller beat a cornerback (twice), a linebacker, a safety and a linebacker-safety double team. On another catch, he was so open that it was hard to figure out who was supposed to be on him.

"The guy's a matchup problem," said teammate Brodney Pool, a safety. "He's like a receiver/tight end."

ODDS AND ENDS: The Jets will be making a big mistake if they take the Buffalo Bills lightly. The Bills are 0-3 and absolutely desperate, and their new coach just fired a warning flare into his locker room, cutting former starting QB Trent Edwards. Plus, there's history. The Jets' past 13 road games against the Bills were decided by 10 points or fewer. The Jets are 6-7 in those games. ... Speaking of Edwards, the Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars were the only two teams that submitted waiver claims, but he was awarded to the Jaguars. They had the priority because their record is worse than the Jets' mark. ... How rough was it for rookie CB Kyle Wilson in Miami? Unofficially, he was targeted 12 times by Chad Henne. Result: seven completions for 95 yards, plus a 27-yard penalty for pass interference. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made a nice adjustment in the second half, moving Wilson into the slot. That helped a little.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

EDITORS' PICKS