How will Jets deal with Michael Carter’s absence?

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RB Michael Carter running with ball black jersey
RB Michael Carter running with ball black jersey

While the Jets have, by and large, had a disappointing season in 2021, rookie running back Michael Carter has been a major surprise. The fourth-round pick leads the team in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and yards from scrimmage.

This past Sunday against Miami, Carter was enjoying another good game with 61 rushing yards in the first half. However, he was knocked out of the game when his ankle got rolled up under him early in the third quarter and reports indicate he is expected to be out for 2-to-3 weeks with a low-grade high ankle sprain.

Without Carter in the second half, the Jets ran the ball just five times for 15 yards and completed just two passes to their running backs for 10 yards. Are they going to struggle to establish a running game with him out? Let’s consider the approach they could take.

Over the course of the season, Carter had established himself as a viable starter option with his excellent vision, burst and elusiveness. He’d also been contributing well to the passing game, handling blocking assignments like a veteran and generating good yardage in open space on short passes.

Behind Carter, both Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson had a defined role. Coleman was often used to spell Carter and carry the ball a handful of times, while Johnson was mostly used as a third-down back, although he also backed up Carter in the four games Coleman has missed.

While Coleman is an experienced veteran and reliable pass protector, that’s an area where Johnson has struggled this season. However, he’s excelled as a pass-catcher, averaging almost 11 yards per catch and scoring two touchdowns. Johnson has decent route-running abilities for a running back and can make some good catches, although he has also dropped a few passes this year.

Although Carter was knocked out of the game on Sunday, Johnson only got two touches -- a season low -- but he has handled the load in the past. With fans calling for him to get more of the work last year while he sat behind Le’Veon Bell and Frank Gore, Johnson finally got his shot against the Raiders and put up a 100-yard game. However, this coaching staff might not trust him to be a lead back after he lost a costly fumble while the Colts game was still a contest in the second quarter.

In addition, for the season as a whole, Coleman is tied with Carter at 3.9 yards per carry while Johnson has only averaged 3.4 yards per carry; a career low.

With Carter out, 2020 fourth round pick La’Mical Perine could perhaps get another shot. Perine has mostly been inactive this year, and even when he has played, he’s not really been used with just one carry in three appearances.

Perine only averaged 3.6 yards per carry and 5.7 yards per catch last year, but he scored two touchdowns and showed some positive flashes. He’ll be completely fresh, so perhaps the Jets should give him an opportunity while Carter is out.

If the Jets want to replace some of Carter’s contributions in the passing game, they could perhaps turn to Austin Walter who is currently on the practice squad. Walter made some good contributions in San Francisco while Robert Saleh was still on their coaching staff and could also perhaps take over kick return duties from Coleman if he undertakes a more significant role on offense.

The hope for Carter is that he’ll be back in a couple of weeks, at which point he can return to his starter role and re-establish himself as one of the main offensive pieces the Jets will build around over the next few seasons. However, if one or more of the young reserves can step up in his absence, that could give the team a boost down the stretch and heading into next season. This could be a good opportunity for the likes of Johnson, Perine and Walter to do this.