In my past two "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" recaps of New York Jets' games, I've made the claim that Shonn Greene is the worst starting running back in the National Football League. At the time it was mostly born of frustration. As a Jets fan, it's gotten to be excruciating watching the plodding Jets' runner plow into the line for no gain over and over and over again. I determined the "Greene is the worst in the league" deduction by posing the hypothetical of "Which team would take him over their current starter?" His stats bear it out: 157 yards on 57 carries, a 2.8 yards-per-carry average.
I'm not a Sabermetrician when it comes to baseball, but I do understand and appreciate that advanced statistics have a place in analyzing which players are better than others. I think it's part of the equation but not all of it. I'm no master of advanced statistics by any means, but in curiosity I took a look at Football Outsiders (footballoutsiders.com), which uses advanced metrics to compare NFL players. And even as a non-fan of Greene, I was a bit shocked to see what I found when looking at this season's numbers.
Football Outsiders ranks running backs by DYAR or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. They explain it way better than I can. But this I can understand: Shonn Greene is ranked 38th in the NFL (Remember, the league has just 32 teams). Greene's DYAR is at -79 through three weeks. Essentially, that means that Greene has gained 79 less yards than a replacement player would have if he were in the same exact situations Greene has been in this season. That's below the likes of Curtis Brinkley and Jonathan Dwyer, guys who are not starting running backs.
But of course you can't run without good blocking from your offensive line. So naturally, the Jets offensive line must be one of the worst in all of football, right? Not quite.
Football Outsiders ranks the Jets' offensive line at 17th in the league in Adjusted Line Yards (again, you can hear it from them). So the Jets' offensive line isn't great, but it isn't terrible by any stretch. And looking at some of Football Outsiders' deeper O-line statistics paints an even bleaker picture for Greene.
The Jets are ranked 12th in the league in "Stuffed Percentage". Basically, at 17%, the Jets' offensive line gets "stuffed" less than 20 other lines in the league. This means that Greene is not getting tackled in the backfield - there are holes for him to run through. He's simply not hitting them. Even scarier, the Jets are 30th in 2nd Level Yards ("Yards which this team's running backs earn between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries"), and Open Field Yards ("Yards which this team's running backs earn more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries").
What all of this boils down to is simply that there is room for Greene to run, he's just not picking up the available yards. You simply cannot blame the Jets' offensive line for Greene's woes.
The Jets would be much better off starting Bilal Powell at running back and using Greene late in games when the defense might be a bit tired. Powell is nothing special, but if we keep with the advanced stats-based argument, he's a better back (+19 in DYAR).
It's not too late for New York to make a change. There has been so much scrutiny towards quarterback Mark Sanchez - the team brought in the world's most popular backup quarterback, a huge distraction which just enhances the spotight. You can have your opinion on whether or not Sanchez deserves his criticism (he ranks 13th in the NFL this season in DYAR for QBs, ahead of Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Tony Romo for what it's worth), but why is Greene immune to it? What has he done in his NFL career to warrant the blind faith the Jets have shown in him?
The answer is that he hasn't done much in the past, and more clearly he isn't getting it done in the present. A team that wants to run the ball as much as the Jets say they do simply can't give the lion's share of the carries to a player as ineffective as Greene.