Commentary

Is Jets' Tomlinson running out of gas?

After a fast start, the veteran's production is beginning to decline

Updated: November 12, 2010, 3:21 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- LaDainian Tomlinson has rushed for 55, 54 and 55 yards in his past three games. Those numbers would be ideal for a driver trying to stay under the speed limit, but not for a future Hall of Fame runner determined to finish what he started -- a potentially magical season.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Tomlinson was given a day off Wednesday to rest his 31-year-old legs, fueling the obvious question: Is he starting to wear down?

"That's not something I'm concerned with because, as they say, numbers don't lie," Tomlinson said Thursday, with a hint of defiance in his voice.

By numbers, he meant the 13,000-plus rushing yards in his illustrious career.

You can't argue with his track record, but Tomlinson's production has dipped since his tremendous five-game start. He's averaging 3.5 yards over his past 47 rushes (three games); he averaged 5.7 over his first 76 carries.

Both Tomlinson and the New York Jets' coaches insisted that the fall-off is simply a matter of circumstances, and that it has nothing to do with fatigue. Nevertheless, Rex Ryan told Tomlinson to take it easy on Wednesday, a practice the Jets employed late last season when Thomas Jones started to fade after a heavy workload.

"It helps out a lot, just having that extra time to recover, to let the legs relax," said Tomlinson, who never had R&R days during his nine seasons in San Diego. "It definitely helps. Today, I could definitely tell the difference. I feel a lot fresher."

Tomlinson attributed the slippage to defenses that have keyed on the Jets' running attack. The Broncos, for instance, used an eight-man front with a defender lined up over every offensive lineman. Tomlinson said it looked like a goal-line defense. Others said it reminded them of the "46" front made famous by the '85 Chicago Bears, whose defensive coordinator was Rex Ryan's father, Buddy.

But how do you explain last Sunday, when Tomlinson was held to 55 yards by the Detroit Lions? The Lions began the day with the 27th-ranked run defense. Shonn Greene (10 carries for 46 yards) had one of his better days, and it looks as if he could have an expanded role Sunday in Cleveland.

"I don't see him slowing down at all," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said of Tomlinson. "It's hard for anybody to keep that tempo up. I think it's not just LT. There are things we can do better, blocking up front."

Lately, the Jets' vaunted rushing attack has turned into grind and pound, as neither Greene nor Tomlinson has busted a run longer than 12 yards in the past two games. The Browns have a solid run defense, yielding only 106 yards per game (15th).

Tomlinson will continue to get an occasional rest day in practice. Ryan sees no downside to that, saying he'd rather cut Tomlinson's reps in practice than in games.

"I don't worry about wearing down because I'm in great shape," Tomlinson said. "Physically, I feel great. I'm never worried about proving people wrong. I think you do that every week because there are still people that don't believe an older back can get the job done -- particularly me, because of my carries and yards."

As he said, numbers don't lie. Maybe, lately, they've been telling little white lies.

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

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Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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