The 1,000-yard mark is in sight for LaDainian Tomlinson, but he’s paying it no mind. Tomlinson, who has rushed for 837 yards in his first 13 games with the Jets, needs to average 55 yards a contest over the final three outings to reach the 1,000 plateau for the ninth time in 10 pro seasons.
“People always remind me of how close I am to 1,000, so that’s when I think about it. The other times, I really don’t because I’m just so focused on trying to win the game,” he told me this week on “Four Quarters.” “I really don’t care about the stats, the numbers, anything like that. What’s most important to me is winning the games. I want to get to the playoffs and have a shot at winning the championship.”
Tomlinson, who gained at least 55 yards in each of the Jets’ first nine games, has not accumulated 50 yards on the ground in any of the past four.
“In this business when people scout you, they look at you and say, ‘OK, what do these people do the best?’ For us they look at what we do the best and the say, ‘OK, this is what we need to take away.’ People are good at doing it, so it’s tough for us,” he said. “But at the same time, we have to keep chipping away at it. People try to stop us and what we do best. We have to worry about ourselves and make them stop it.”
The Jets will be in Pittsburgh Sunday and the Steelers stop the run better than anyone in the NFL at 60.1 yards per game. Then the Bears, with a defense that is ranked second against the run (87.9 yards per game), follow in Week 16. If Tomlinson needs a strong close to get to the century mark, he’ll face a Bills defense that he torched for a season-high 133 yards in Week 5 and that allows a league-high 165.8 ypg.
“We have our hands full with both of those teams, starting with Pittsburgh. We take pride in running the football, so we would have it no other way to have their strength against our strength,” said Tomlinson when asked about the Steelers and the Bears. “This is a time when competitors need to step up. Myself and a lot of the guys on the offense, we need to step our game up and I think we will.”
Pittsburgh is a well-coordinated crew on defense and the Steelers are not lacking for talent when you consider NT Casey Hampton, LBs LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior and James Harrison, and a fabulous safety.
“Dick LeBeau is one of the best of all time at calling the defense and really getting his guys to do what he wants them to do — blitzing, run blitzes and different schemes against different teams,” said Tomlinson, an underrated blocker who paces the Jets with 49 receptions.
“We have to be prepared for Troy Polamalu, who’s around the box all the time and coming, so we have to really know where he’s at, at all times. If we’re able to really keep our eye on him, I think we’ll be just fine because he causes a lot of havoc — interceptions, fumbles and all that kind of stuff.”
And when the Jets reach scoring territory, they have to finish. The Green & White rank 30th in red zone TD efficiency at just 36.8 percent and 17th in third-down efficiency at 37.5 percent while the Steelers rank fourth in red zone defense (41.2) and third in third-down defense (33.1).
“Our tempo has been a little off and we haven’t played quite as well as we usually do. Particularly third downs and in the red zone when it’s critical for us to try and score points, we haven’t played that well,” Tomlinson said. “It’s on all of us to get it better so we can score points when we get down in the red zone.
“You kind of feel the pressure sometimes when you do get in the red zone, like, ‘Oh my goodness, we need to score.’ That pressure may get to you a little bit because you are thinking about it. For us, I think we need to quit thinking about it being red zone and play like it’s just another part of the football field and I think we’ll be just fine.”
The offense will be without the services of RT Damien Woody, who left the Dolphins game in the first quarter and had arthroscopic surgery on his knee this week. Wayne Hunter, who replaced Woody last Sunday, will start in his place at Heinz Field.
“On the offensive line Damien is a stable guy you can always count on, so that loss is obviously going to be big as far as the leadership, his ability and all the things he has seen in his time playing football,” Tomlinson said. “And also, he’s played against this Pittsburgh Steelers team a lot, so you’re going to miss that part of it. But as we talk about, when one man goes down, the next man has to step up. Obviously Wayne is up this week and we have a lot of confidence in Wayne that he’s going to do a tremendous job.”
LaDainian Tomlinson plans on having a busy January for the fifth consecutive year and his first in New York. He’s not concerned with 1,000 yards or any other individual milestones as the season winds down.
“I think we will be in the playoffs. This team is put together to make a playoff run, and we’re so talented that I don’t see us not being in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve put ourselves in great position to make the playoffs. We’re 9-4 with three games to go. They’re tough games, but they’re also winnable games. If you tell me we can’t win at least two games of the next three — that will be very disappointing.”
Tags: Damien Woody, Dick LeBeau, LaDainian Tomlinson, PIttsburgh Steelers, Wayne Hunter
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