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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Marty Mornhinweg's reputation in NFL circles is that of a guy who likes to throw the ball in an attack-style offense that piles up points.
That air approach has been mostly grounded in his two seasons with the New York Jets.
The offensive coordinator has had to stick to more of a run-first philosophy, relying more on the running game on a team that has struggled with consistency and production.
"Just the way we're built," Mornhinweg said Thursday.
It's clear the Jets are a stronger running team than passing, ranking second in the NFL in rushing offense behind Chris Ivory (739 yards) and Chris Johnson (613). The team averages 4.7 yards per carry and 147.1 yards rushing per game. On the flip side, however, New York is ranked 32nd — dead last — in the league in passing offense.
That's the result of Geno Smith so far not taking the next step in his progression as a passer in his second NFL season. He has just nine touchdown passes and 12 interceptions to go along with a 69.8 quarterback rating. Michael Vick briefly provided a spark in his three games as a starter when Smith was benched earlier in the season, but the Jets were hardly a threat in the air with him under center.
"Well, certainly there is a developmental process with every young player at every position," Mornhinweg said. "The quarterback is such an important position that you certainly have to do certain things there. And I know it sounds crazy, and Geno has been up and down just a little bit throughout this first year and a half going on two years, but he's a young, talented guy. Every quarterback develops at a little bit (of a) different rate."
The problem for Mornhinweg and the Jets has been that they've entered the last two seasons expecting to have more of an attacking offense.
"Well, earlier in both seasons we have," Mornhinweg said.
The Jets appeared on their way this season, rolling for 402 yards in the opening win against Oakland. New York also led the Packers 21-3 early in Week 2 at Green Bay before falling 31-24.
"The Oakland game, we were running and gunning pretty well," Mornhinweg said. "I remember Green Bay, we came out running and gunning pretty well, both running and passing. Then, consciously, we morphed into quite a little bit more running."
That choice came because attacking through the air simply wasn't working.
Coach Rex Ryan gets labeled as a staunch proponent for a "Ground-and-Pound" offense, but that's mostly because it was so successful in the Jets' runs to the AFC title game in his first two seasons with Mark Sanchez at quarterback. That was based a lot on personnel, which allowed New York to run it down opponents' throats and let his defense clean up.
So, early in the season, the Jets turned back to what their strength was: running the ball.
"When we're protecting the football, I think we do a pretty darn good job offensively," Ryan said. "I think our Achilles' heel has been two areas: protecting the football and then the red zone. But I think we're getting better in both, though."
There have been other factors that have shaped the offensive approach. The Jets, outscored 360-230, have dealt with inconsistent play on the offensive line. A hamstring injury hampered top receiver Eric Decker for several weeks early on. The trade for Percy Harvin has helped, but he was a midseason addition, when the Jets were already in a 1-6 hole.
Mornhinweg sidestepped questions whether he has been frustrated that his offenses with the Jets haven't put up good numbers.
"Well, I believe we are second in rushing right now," he said.
But overall, New York is 25th in offense, and that has a lot to do with the Jets' 3-11 record.
"In this league, you need to pass the ball very efficiently to score points, typically," Mornhinweg said. "Now, every game is just a little bit different, but certainly, the passing game, you have to get that going at some point to win on a consistent basis."
Mornhinweg acknowledged he and Ryan talk about the offense "every day." But a published report a few weeks ago said the two have had friction all season, and the Jets' run-heavy approach — they rushed 49 times — in a 16-13 loss to Miami three weeks ago was Mornhinweg's way of "sticking it" to Ryan.
Both denied the report, and Mornhinweg reiterated that running the football more often as the season progressed was "a conscious choice."
"Well, the way we're built," Mornhinweg said, "that's a reasonable thing to do."
That said, Mornhinweg was asked if he would prefer — all things considered — to have more of an attacking offense.
"Well, you need to score points to win pretty consistently," he said. "With a few exceptions."
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