There is no denying how important Chris Ivory is to the Jets' offense, not after what we've seen from him the first month of the season. You can make the case that he's the team's best and most important offensive player.
Brandon Marshall even made the case this past week that Ivory is the best running back in any offense, suggesting that he is capable of being a 1,500-yard rusher, nearly triple what Ivory averaged in the previous five years.
But a word of caution. It is not in the Jets' best interests to turn Ivory into a workhorse running back in the mold of Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch or Le'Veon Bell (all three of whom are better than Ivory, with all due respect to Marshall's assessment).
Ivory's running style and his history of injury argue against the idea that he should be used as a feature back in the traditional sense.
Not taking anything away from Ivory, who is a terrific runner and an essential piece -- maybe the essential piece -- of the Jets' offense. But if coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey make the mistake of overusing him, there's a good chance he will wear down as the season goes along and become a far less effective runner than he is now.
What makes Ivory so great is also what puts him at risk of not being able to do it for a prolonged period of time. He is one of the most powerful runners you will ever see, always willing to lower his shoulder to gain extra yardage. But Ivory's preference to run over people instead of around them leaves him vulnerable to getting hurt, which has been a common theme throughout his career.
Last season was the first that he played all 16 games, and he already has missed a game this season with a quadriceps injury. Technically on the active roster during the Jets' 24-17 loss to the Eagles in Week 3, Ivory didn't play. It was no coincidence that the Jets' offense sputtered without him, and again no coincidence the following week that his presence provided a major lift in a 27-14 win over the Dolphins in London. He gained a career-high 166 yards on 29 carries and scored a touchdown.
Ivory has 314 yards and three touchdowns on 63 carries. That puts him in a tie with Rams rookie Todd Gurley for the most average rushing yards per game (104.7). But it also put Ivory in the NFL lead in a category that ought to raise a red flag: his average of 21 rushing attempts per game.
That is not sustainable for the entire season, and the Jets would be foolish to think otherwise. Fortunately, Bowles seems to agree with this assessment, although it remains to be seen whether he and Gailey actually will come up with a plan to reduce that number and thus do everything in their power to keep Ivory fresh in November and December -- and possibly January.
"We are going to monitor to make sure that [Ivory] is getting his work in, but we are still giving some breaks in between here and there,'' Bowles said. "We know he is a bell cow and everything else, but we still got two other guys that can run the ball."
Those two other guys are Bilal Powell, who has a groin injury and might not play Sunday, and Zak Stacy, neither of whom is in a class with Ivory. But Bowles is absolutely correct in his view that Ivory needs to be spelled in order to maintain his effectiveness. So here's the coach's conundrum: It's one thing to know you need to limit Ivory's carries and another thing entirely to stick to that plan when the temptation might be to keep feeding Ivory with the game on the line.
"We're going to monitor and make sure that we give him breaks and use other people in there to run the football," Gailey said. "We just can't run him in there and then throw it when he's not in there. Everybody will figure that out. We have to give him some breaks, and then the other guys we put in there have got to be able to run the football, too, which I think we can do."
The Jets have a valuable asset in Ivory, a game-changing player. But they also have a player whose fearless and physical style puts him at risk of not being available if he's used too often. So as enticing as it might be for the Jets to keep calling Ivory's number, the smart play is to live by a more sensible approach: less is more.