Through the season's first two games, the New York Jets have the league's top running game and the highest-scoring offense, and they are off to their best start in coach Herman Edwards's four-year tenure.
At this point in the Jets' forgettable 2003 season, the offense was able to muster only 78 net rushing yards and score a total of 23 points in losing the first two games on the way to a 6-10 season.
In an assessment of his team's performance and his own, offensive coordinator Paul Hackett traced many of the Jets' woes on offense last season to his reluctance to stick with the running game while quarterback Chad Pennington recovered from a preseason wrist injury.
Hackett said that a combination of poor play calling and poor execution resulted in an offense that was never able to find a rhythm, even after Pennington returned in the seventh game of the season.
"If I had one criticism about myself and us a year ago, I would say that going back to the drawing board once we realized we weren't going to have Chad Pennington for eight weeks was not very well done," he said Wednesday.
Although Hackett said that other factors had certainly played into the Jets' fast start this season, like the strong play of the offensive line and a healthy Pennington, the key difference between what is being drawn up this season and last is the increased use of running back Curtis Martin.
"My sense when I look back at 2003 is when we lost the trigger man, there should have been more thought given to perhaps the balance of what we were trying to do and how we were trying to do it," Hackett said, adding later, "and leaning more on the running game in 2003 is what I'm getting at."
Hackett, a coaching disciple of Bill Walsh and his West Coast system of short and intermediate passes, said he had also learned a healthy respect for the importance of a sound running game by working under coaches like Tom Landry and Marty Schottenheimer.
He said he might have moved away from the running game early last season because the Jets always seemed to be trying to rally from deficits, situations in which conventional wisdom says coaches must call more passing plays.
In the Jets' first two games last season, they faced halftime deficits of six points to Washington and 18 points to Miami. The production of the running offense in those games seemed to reflect a pass-first mentality -- particularly against Miami -- when Martin carried the ball 10 times for 32 yards. This year, the contrast is apparent: Martin exceeded his yardage total in last season's Miami game on the Jets' first offensive series against San Diego on Sunday, running for 34 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
Hackett, who has received some criticism for conservative play calling, says the creativity he has shown this season has come from having players who are well schooled in the system (eight of the 11 starters on offense have been Jets for Hackett's entire four-year tenure) and being able to play games with a lead; through two games this season, the Jets have trailed for only about three minutes.
For all of the success of the offense, Hackett said there was still significant room for improvement. When asked what it meant to have the league's highest-scoring offense, Hackett said: "If you can tell me that at the end of 16 games, I'll be one happy guy. We just got off to a good start, and it's no more than that."