Get 'grimy'? Jets implore Breece Hall to be more physical

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Hall of a slump: Joking about his "robot knee," Breece Hall was absolutely beaming after his 177-yard rushing performance against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 8. Knee surgery for a torn left ACL? What knee surgery?

Since then, though, Hall has rushed for only 182 yards over six games, causing a much different postgame mood Friday night after the 34-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins. That Oct. 8 smile was long gone, replaced by a look of frustration and bewilderment. The gifted running back, in a moment of self-reflection, all but admitted he's searching for answers.

"I take pride in being one of our A players," he said. "I expect to almost be perfect every week, and I'm trying, but it's been hard because I've been pressing so much and I feel like part of me feels like I'm in a box a little bit."

What's going on with Hall? It's one of the biggest questions in this disappointing season for the Jets. Clearly, the ever-changing offensive line has contributed to his slump (more on that below), but it's more than that, according to coach Robert Saleh.

From Saleh's vantage point, Hall -- mindful of the team's offensive funk -- is trying so hard to hit home runs that he's passing up singles and doubles. Saleh said Hall is "a special talent" who needs to remember that a running back's job is to gain "the grimy yards." In other words, he wants Hall to be more physical -- a rather candid assessment from the coach.

"He's a big back -- he's 220 pounds and he's got elite speed -- but he also has the elite ability to lower his shoulder and get vertical when he needs to," Saleh said. "And once he reconnects to that, I think it'll all come back to we'll start seeing him for what we know he is."

Saleh wants Hall to get back to "lowering your shoulder, getting dirty, getting grimy, finishing runs and not trying to find ways to bounce and make people miss at the line of scrimmage all the time." Easier said than done. With a leaky offensive line, which is allowing consistent penetration, it's hard for a running back to find daylight.

That said, Hall is averaging minus-1.1 rushing yards over expected on a per-carry basis over the past six games, per NFL Next Gen Stats data -- a metric that suggests poor blocking isn't the only reason for his decline. By comparison, his average was plus-3.3 per carry for the first five games.

"I've been making mistakes that I've never made in my career," Hall said. "So it's frustrating, bro."

2. O-line shuffle: The offensive line has turned into a weekly shell game, with four of the five pieces moving constantly into different spots. The lack of continuity is no doubt contributing to the historically poor efficiency of the entire offense. Consider these not-so-fun facts:

Left guard Laken Tomlinson, in his ninth season, was asked whether he could recall a time in his career when he saw this much change on the line. He paused a few seconds before answering.

"Probably last year," he said.

Oh, yes, how quickly we forget. The Jets started 11 different linemen in 2022, with a total of 12 seeing action.

3. Mega-mentor: Let's take a moment to appreciate Tomlinson, the one constant in a world of fluctuation. The man has started 108 straight games for the San Francisco 49ers and Jets, dating to 2017. Before that, he didn't miss a game in two seasons with the Detroit Lions (he started 24).

What's his secret? Tomlinson, a first-round pick of the Lions in 2015, said he learned a lot about taking care of his body from Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

"One of the first persons to take me under his wing was Megatron," Tomlinson said. "He's a guy that played through a lot of pain and injuries and was still able to play at an extremely high level, so he took me under his wing from day one. He was an amazing mentor. Just extreme admiration for that guy. He didn't have to take the time to help a rookie like me, but that's something I truly appreciate."

4. Where's Will? At his current pace, defensive end Will McDonald IV will become the Jets' first first-round pick since Vernon Gholston in 2008 to play under 200 defensive or offensive snaps in his rookie season.

McDonald said this is "not exactly" the way he imagined his first season, but it's important to remember the circumstances. Yes, he was a high draft pick -- 15th overall -- but he was added to a talented defensive line. Basically, he's the fifth man in a five-man rotation at defensive end, which explains his meager snap total -- only 101 in nine games. (He missed one game with an injury, another as a healthy scratch.)

The Jets had bigger needs on draft day, but there were two factors that led them to McDonald: General manager Joe Douglas believes in taking the best player available, and Saleh likes to stockpile defensive linemen for his vaunted rotation. The downside is that McDonald is missing out on valuable experience and the team isn't getting much return on its investment.

New York employed a similar approach last season with 2022 first-round pick Jermaine Johnson, a rotational piece on the defensive line, but at least he finished with 316 defensive snaps. That provided a foundation for him to make a huge improvement in Year 2.

For his part, McDonald insisted that he's not frustrated and that he has no problem waiting his turn.

"I don't really want to rush things, but I know that I can make a lot of impact," he told ESPN. "We've got a lot of dudes in the room that can impact the game, so it's really just like whenever each of us get our opportunities, we just have to ball out."

Of the 31 first-round picks in 2023, only one has played fewer snaps on offense or defense than McDonald -- Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nolan Smith (61 snaps). That he was picked 30th overall by the defending NFC champions has made it tough to see the field.

5. Brown out: Left tackle Duane Brown was in a unfamiliar situation Friday night -- the first time in his 17-year career that he wasn't in the starting lineup. That covered 217 games as a starter. He could be available to play next week against the Atlanta Falcons, setting up an intriguing decision at left tackle. Mekhi Becton (right ankle) could return. Rookie Carter Warren has impressed Saleh, who wants to see more of the fourth-round pick.

6. Slump of the century: The Jets are now tied with four other teams for fewest offensive touchdowns through 11 games since 2000. The others: The 2000 Cincinnati Bengals, the 2006 Oakland Raiders, the 2009 Cleveland Browns and the 2009 Raiders. None of those teams won more than five games.

7. Temper, temper: Defensive end Micheal Clemons could face additional discipline from the league after being ejected for elbowing an official in the face. It was an inadvertent elbow, according to Saleh. Clemons also lost his cool after last week's game against the Buffalo Bills.

8. Stuck with him: Wide receiver Allen Lazard, a healthy scratch, isn't going anywhere any time soon. His $10 million salary for 2024 is fully guaranteed, and his cap charge is $12.2 million. Barring a dramatic improvement, he could go down as one of the Jets' worst free agent signings in recent memory -- $22 million over the first two years of the deal.

9. Where's Izzy? Remember all that chatter about rookie running back Israel Abanikanda and how he was going to spark the offense after Michael Carter's release? Well, he has played only 10 snaps in the past two games. The reason: He has a long way to go as a blocker/blitz protector.

10. The last word: "I don't know what to tell y'all. I don't know what to tell the fans. I'm out of words. I'm out." -- wide receiver Garrett Wilson after Friday's loss, the Jets' fourth in a row