Former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini, now a television analyst on ESPN, has some advice for Gang Green.
“If you’re going to run the ball inside, handle the nose tackle,” Mangini said while breaking down film of the Browns’ 34-14 win over the Patriots earlier in the season Friday on SportsCenter.
That “nose tackle” Mangini is referring to is Vince Wilfork. Known for his ability to get penetration up front and clog running lanes, Wilfork, arguably the best run stuffing tackle in the NFL, is the fulcrum of the Patriots’ 3-4 defensive front. The 6-foot-2, 325-pounder takes up two gaps and often faces constant double teams, allowing other players to make plays as a result.
Wilfork, who made 57 tackles and had 2.0 sacks during the regular season, might not have been directly responsible for any of New England’s league-leading 38 takeaways, but he certainly played a part -- albeit one that didn’t show up on any stat sheet.
“He’s tremendous,” said center Nick Mangold, who will be mostly responsible for negating Wilfork’s impact in Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff game. “One of the best tackles in the game. Playing 60 minutes against him is always a challenge. But I look forward to it.”
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Jets have run the ball up the middle 26 times against the Patriots this season, averaging approximately 4.0 yards per carry.
However, after watching Peyton Hillis run off right tackle for a 35-yard touchdown against the Patriots in that Nov. 7 victory, Mangini suggested the Jets could have better success running through the c-gap -- the space between the defensive end and the outside linebacker -- or try to get around the edge with crack blocks.
As ESPN NewYork’s Rich Cimini noted in his Thursday blog post, the right side is where the Jets have had their success running the ball against New England. Five of their 14 carries there have gone for first downs, while LaDanian Tomlinson has wracked up 63 yards on five attempts going right.
Of course, as Cimini pointed out, the Jets won’t have the services of right tackle Damien Woody (out of the season, Achilles) for round three. Still, with Wilfork clogging the middle, you’d think the Jets’ best bet would be to go the perimeter route, even with backup Wayne Hunter stepping into Woody’s position.
Hillis ended up rushing for a career-high 184 yards in that game. The Jets would gladly take that type of production from Tomlinson and Shonn Greene.
Granted, it's easier said than done.