Welcome to Trends to Track, a weekly look at some of the developing trends shown by the upcoming opponent. Here we intrepidly or foolishly go where smarter people fear to tread and try to establish some trends which might influence the outcome of Sunday's game. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, or even necessarily the most important trends and matchups to focus on. Rather, it is a highly idiosyncratic look at trends which caught my eye this week and might prove interesting in Sunday's game. Please feel free to supplement this article with any trends you've noticed. Now, let's get to it.
Turning Over A New Leaf
The Chargers changed offensive coordinators in 2014, bringing in Frank Reich to replace Ken Whisenhunt. However, not much has seemed to change for the San Diego offense in 2014. Rather, trends started in 2013 have been accentuated. In particular, quarterback Phillip Rivers seemed to turn over a new leaf in 2013, passing for a career high 69.5% completion percentage and getting intercepted only 11 times, the second lowest rate of his career. 2014 has only seen more of the same, as Rivers is currently completing a ridiculous 70.1% of his passes and has only been intercepted a single time. Rivers is on pace to set career bests in completion percentage, passer rating, INT percentage, QBR and Adjusted Yards Per Attempt. In a word, Rivers has been brilliant. Perhaps the most important part of this is that San Diego simply does not turn the ball over in 2014. Through four games they have turned the ball over only once, second only to the Cleveland Browns' zero in turning the ball over. With a prolific passing attack ranked 5th in the NFL in yards and 4th in the NFL in TDs, the turnover free game the Chargers have been playing makes it very difficult to beat them. With the Jets defense 2nd to last in the NFL in creating turnovers, and last in the NFL with zero interceptions, this would appear to be a very bad matchup from the Jets point of view. Any hopes of just staying even in the turnover battle, let alone winning it, will likely rest with the prospect of Geno Smith, the player with the most turnovers in the NFL, playing mistake free football against a decent Chargers defense ranked 13th in the NFL with 6 turnovers. The only silver lining here is that the Chargers have not been particularly skilled at intercepting the ball, ranking 20th in the NFL with just 2 interceptions. If Geno can manage to pull it together and play mistake free football the Jets may have a fighting chance on the road against a good Chargers team. If the turnovers continue, it will likely be another very long day for the Jets.
Running Backs Take A Pass
Running the ball against the Chargers has not been easy this year. Only one opposing running back, Andre Ellington, has managed more than 36 yards rushing, and Ellington only amassed 53 yards on 13 carries. While opposing running backs have largely been stifled on the ground, they have had quite a bit of success through the air. Opposing running backs have combined for 35 receptions good for 279 yards and 4 touchdown catches against the Chargers. That's good for 31% of the total passing yardage, 38% of the receptions and 67% of the passing touchdowns given up by the Chargers this year. Those are very big running back numbers in the passing game. In contrast only 41 passes for 515 yards and a single touchdown have been completed to wide receivers against the Chargers. It would seem the way to attack the Chargers is through the air, but with a large dose of passes to running backs. This would seem to play into the things that the Jets are trying to do with Geno in terms of giving him shorter, safer throws to complete. I would expect to see quite a bit of Johnson, Ivory, maybe even Powell in the passing game on Sunday. The ability of the backs to play a large role in the passing attack, perhaps supplemented with a hefty dose of Amaro, may prove crucial in the Jets' chances of successfully sustaining drives against the San Diego defense.
Shutting Down The Run
The Chargers have not been able to get anything at all going in the running game this year. Through 4 weeks, against both good run defenses (Seattle, Arizona, Buffalo) and bad run defenses (Jacksonville), the Chargers have consistently failed to muster a robust running attack, exceeding 83 yards only once this year. With star running back Ryan Matthews injured since the second week of the season the Chargers struggle to do anything on the ground, averaging a league low 2.4 yards per carry, by far the worst average in the NFL. The Jets run defense is fourth in the league, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. That would seem to give the Jets the advantage of being able to reduce San Diego to a one dimensional attack. If the Jets can completely shut down the run game the defense can then focus solely on stopping the pass, usually a big edge for the defense. Unfortunately for that theory, the Chargers have already faced the 1st, 2nd and 3rd best run defenses in the NFL this year in Seattle, Buffalo and Arizona. Those teams all managed to clamp down on the Chargers' run game, but two out of three still lost by more than a touchdown. In fact, the team that had the most success shutting down the Chargers' running game was the one bad run defense the Chargers have faced, Jacksonville. The Jaguars gave up only 42 rushing yards to the Chargers yet still managed to get blown out by 19 points.
Sunday's game does not appear to present too many favorable situations for the Jets. On the road, traveling 3000 miles, facing a very good Chargers team that doesn't turn the ball over and moves the ball almost exclusively and very successfully through the air; these are not good things for the Jets team we have seen so far this year. Unless Geno fixes his turnover problems and the Jets pass defense gets a big boost from the return of Dee Milliner this could shape up as a double digit loss on Sunday. The trends do not favor the Jets in this game. Here's to bucking trends.