Rushers broke through for the New York Jets in a defensive struggle
In an act of gridiron mercy, the New York Jets made sure that Sunday’s dreary affair with the equally woebegone Houston Texans was quick and relatively painless thanks to a strong rushing attack that kept the clock running.
Losing rookie standout Michael Carter could’ve been a depressive blow to the New York offense, but those who linger in his wake picked up the slack in a 21-14 victory. Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, and Austin Walter united for 147 yards on 31 carries while returning quarterback Zach Wilson put in the game-winning score on the ground in the third quarter. Walter likewise visited the end zone for the first touchdown of his NFL career.
With their lead triumvirate joined by Wilson (3 yards) and Elijah Moore (7 yards), the Jets (3-8) had a season-best 157 total yards on the ground. It was their best output since they earned 206 in last year’s December visit from Las Vegas.
While the return of Wilson from a sprained PCL injury dominated whatever headlines Sunday’s visit to Houston had to offer, the run game provided Wilson a comfortable and reliable safety blanket to work with despite missing a major contributor of their own. Wilson sustained an ankle injury in last week’s loss to Miami, which will keep him out of the next two games at least.
“I think you see guys buying into the system,” tackle Morgan Moses said of the replacement rushers’ efforts, per notes from the Jets. “Any time you lose a guy like Michael Carter, who’s a fantastic running back and you have guys fill that void, that’s a part of the team buying into things that we want to do.”
The Jets’ rushing attack was paced by the efforts of Coleman, whose New York excursions have been derailed by injuries. He took advantage of primary duties in Carter’s absence, putting up 67 yards on 16 carries. With multiple ailments eating at parts of the last two seasons, it was his best tally since his last 100-yard game back in October 2019 while with San Francisco.
Coleman’s injury woes allowed Carter to commandeer the Jets’ top carries earlier than anticipated. Thus, it’s unlikely that Coleman, signer of a one-year, $2 million deal over the offseason, has a major role in the Jets’ future.
But the two-time Super Bowl participant is working through a big opportunity that can support the Jets’ long-term goals (creating a Wilson security blanket and providing veteran momentum and guidance to a young offense) while proving he’s still capable of top rusher’s workload after two relatively lost seasons.
“You see how it opened up everything else. It was awesome how those guys can come through,” Wilson said of the run game’s help, per Jets notes. “It’s nice when you can have balanced football and help each other on both sides of the ball.”
Coleman and Johnson’s impactful rushes were perhaps unsurprising but the weekend’s “Any Given Sunday” quota was likely fulfilled by Walter, who made his regular-season debut in a Jets uniform. Granted dressing privileges over 2020 draft pick La’Mical Perine, Walter put up 38 yards on nine carries, his most impactful coming on the final full drive of the first half.
With New York threatening, a 12-yard rush up the middle set the Jets up in a goal-to-go situation. Walter would score the first touchdown of his NFL career two plays later, doing so a mere 10-minute drive from his collegiate endeavors at Rice University.
Walter, previously an XFL star with the Dallas Renegades, didn’t know that he’d be dressing for the game until Saturday. Yet, a special someone foresaw a big opportunity ahead.
“My mom said yesterday that she could feel it. I was going to score today. A mother’s intuition. Your mother always knows best,” Walter said, per notes from the team. “It was inside zone, I could see the defense slanted in,” Walter said of the play, per notes from the team. “I knew if I hit off guard’s block I’d be right there. I wasn’t going to be denied, it was going to be my first touchdown.”
Coleman and Walter each previously worked with Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur during the trio’s shared experiences in San Francisco, which also produced Robert Saleh, who previously served as the defensive boss. Walter felt that Sunday’s effort was reminiscent of the 49ers’ offensive efforts from 2019, when a balanced rushing attack of Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida guided the Bay Area to the NFC championship.
“Being in this system for three years, spending time with coach (Kyle) Shanahan in San Francisco I got a feeling for how the offense is supposed to work,” Walter said. “This offense relies heavily on the run game, and the run game opens up everything. If you look at the year they [the Niners] went to the Super Bowl, 2019, it was run game, run game, run game. You do that and it allows for (the) defense to play less and it allows for clock management. The run game is the foundation of this West Coast offense.”
The Jets will look to keep the rushing momentum alive next Sunday when they return home for an interconference matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags