Jets’ game plan clear for vulnerable Seahawks defense

The best cure for the Jets’ ailing rushing attack might not be a personnel change, a play-calling tweak or anything fancy. 

It might just be a well-timed Sunday gift from the schedule-makers to face the ground-and-pound-susceptible Seahawks. 

Something has to give when an offense averaging three yards per carry over the last three games faces a defense allowing five yards per carry over five games since returning from the bye. Five of the Seahawks’ last six opponents (1-5 during that stretch) have attempted at least 33 rushes — averaging 180.8 yards per game — so the blueprint is there for copying. 

“It’s not high school: You can’t just run the same run over and over and over,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. “I keep preaching to the guys: We have to run the ball. There was a point in the season where we were a running team and we were doing a lot of good things in the run game, and that’s kind of fallen off in the last month.” 

The Jets know they must return to running the ball well against the Seahawks.
Robert Sabo for the NY POST
Zonovan Knight at Jets practice on Friday.
Zonovan Knight at Jets practice on Friday.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

The Jets are averaging 141.7 rushing yards per game with a low of 93 in their seven wins, compared to 72.6 with only one output above 93 in their eight losses, including four straight. Here come the Seahawks, who are surrendering a 155.5 yards per game on the ground this season — second-worst in the NFL to the lowly Texans. 

“You don’t see many teams have success without running the ball well,” tight end Tyler Conklin told The Post after practice Friday. “Obviously for us this season, it’s been like that: When we’ve run the ball well, we’ve won games. When we haven’t run the ball, we haven’t won games. It’s definitely something we need to get going, and this is the right time to do it: Seattle has had ups and downs in the run game, and to make this run headed into the playoffs we have to run the ball.” 

The crowd that thinks all running backs are the same and not worthy of high draft picks or big contracts shouldn’t look at the Jets. Rookie second-rounder Breece Hall was averaging 5.8 yards per carry before a season-ending torn ACL. It looked for a bit as if the Jets might get by with Michael Carter, James Robinson and undrafted rookie Zonovan Knight, but those three fill-ins are averaging 3.9, 3.6 and 2.9 yards per carry, respectively, even after a couple of big games for Knight. 

“Being able to run the ball, kill clock and possess it [to] move the chains … that is a big part of especially December football,” said head coach Robert Saleh, whose team started 4-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer, but is down to 4-5. “Just our team ball hasn’t been clicking to the level it needs to click for us to win those one-score games.”

The season-ending injury to offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker — simultaneous to Hall — also has been devastating. No excuse, say the other blockers. 

“We take full ownership,” left tackle Duane Brown said. “Running the ball is about a mentality, and we have to have the mentality that we won’t be denied. We have a lot of experience up front and we have to create movement.” 

Quarterback Mike White’s return from a rib injury should keep defenses from stacking the box because the Jets were one-dimensional in two of Zach Wilson’s last three starts (before and after his benching). 

“You have to earn the right to back them off,” Saleh said. 

Wilson was benched for fourth-string quarterback Chris Streveler last game to jump-start the rushing attack, Saleh said. It’s possible Streveler will not be active against the Seahawks, so the answer must come in a more conventional form. 

Duane Brown
Duane Brown takes ownership for the Jets’ struggling run game.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

“Many of these Seahawk front 7 defenders are fringe NFL players & that’s come to light,” Fox analyst Brock Huard, a former Seattle quarterback, wrote on Twitter earlier this month. 

It’s also up to Knight to adapt to defensive adjustments now that he is no longer an unknown. His fresh legs ran 46 times for 230 yards (five per carry) in his first three games (beginning Nov. 27), but he totaled 19 carries for 21 yards in back-to-back losses to the Lions and Jaguars. 

Lions defensive lineman Alim McNeil — Knight’s former North Carolina State teammate — told Knight that the chess match was on after the teams squared off. 

“He was telling me that they were setting up different rushes and stuff to stop the run,” Knight said. “I had a lot of players after the Detroit and Jacksonville games say to me, ‘You’re a great running back and people are noticing,’ so people are starting to hone in on our running game a little more.” 

Knight then finished packing his bag for a 2,800-mile flight. But the path to the playoffs is ground travel.