Commentary

For Jets, it's easy -- give it to Greene

Injured in last year's AFC title game, Shonn has unfinished business with Colts

Updated: January 8, 2011, 4:07 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Shonn Greene was just getting started. He went for 33 yards on his last five carries, body blows to an Indianapolis Colts defense that was beginning to sag. He was on his way to a big second half, and so, too, were the New York Jets. Or so it seemed.

Greene was reminded of that the other day, when told by a reporter that he left a mark on the AFC Championship Game last January.

[+] EnlargeShonne Greene
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireShonn Greene emerged as star during last year's unlikely playoff run.

"Yeah," said Greene, showing the slightest hint of disgust, "an unfinished mark."

Everybody knows what happened next. On his 10th carry of the Jets' 30-17 loss, Greene suffered a painful rib injury. He begged the coaches to let him back on the field, but his breathing was labored and they feared a fracture, so his day ended in the third quarter. The way he was running, who knows what might have been?

The Jets are back at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night for an AFC wild-card game, and of all the players looking for some form of payback, the one at the front of the line might be Greene.

He will get chances, plenty of chances. If the Jets (11-5) beat the Colts (10-6) to take the next step in their Super Bowl mission, it could very well be a Greene day. He's motivated, he's fresh and he's a matchup nightmare for the Colts.

"This is when he took off last year," running backs coach Anthony Lynn said. "He took off for a reason. People don't want to see him coming. This time of year, guys don't like to tackle Shonn."

Greene is 233 pounds, a boulder rolling downhill. He got hot in the playoffs last season, rushing for 135 and 128 yards in the first two rounds. Only one rookie in NFL history ran for more yards in his first two postseason games, the Dallas Cowboys' Duane Thomas (278) in 1970.

Once again, the Jets are counting on Greene to energize their late-season ground game. LaDainian Tomlinson has slowed down in recent weeks, just as Thomas Jones did last season. Greene is a big part of Saturday night's game plan, a north-south runner who can do damage against the Colts' fast, but undersized front seven.

"Shonn Greene is a playoff back," said an opposing personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He could give the Colts real problems. If I were the Colts, I'd be worried about Shonn Greene."

The Colts finished the regular season with the 25th-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 127 yards per game. But that ranking is a bit deceiving because they have shown improvement over their past three games, holding Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson to 46, 45 and 39 yards, respectively.

The Jets believe they can run the ball on anybody, and they especially like their chances with Greene and Tomlinson coming off rest weeks. Neither played in the final regular-season game. Yes, Greene took more of a pounding in his second season than he did as a rookie -- his carries went from 108 to 185 -- but he's ready to rock.

"I feel pretty good," he said.

This has been a curious season for Greene. When the Jets released Jones in the offseason, it was widely assumed that Greene would ascend to the feature-back role. When they signed Tomlinson, it still figured to be Greene's job.

It didn't turn out that way, as Tomlinson carried most of the load for the first two months.

"Quite frankly," Lynn said, "he outperformed Shonn early on."

Greene landed in the doghouse, fumbling twice in the opener. Maybe he started pressing, but a strange thing happened: Perhaps subconsciously, he started to emulate Tomlinson's running style -- and that wasn't a good thing. It caught the coaches' attention in Week 3 at Miami, where he bounced outside on a run that was designed for inside.

A red flag went up.

"He probably would never admit it, but early in the season, he wasn't running like Shonn," Lynn said. "He was running more like LT. He was making cuts and bouncing the ball. I told him, 'Shonn, that's not what you do. You run north-south, you don't run east-west.'"

It took a couple of games for Greene to get back to his bruising style. He apparently didn't agree with Lynn's assessment. When asked this week about that, he waved off a reporter, saying, "That was no big deal."

He seems to be over his LT obsession. He's back to being Greene, punishing and determined to leave his mark.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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