Welcome to Trends to Track, a weekly look at some of the developing trends shown by the upcoming opponent and/or the Jets. 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.
The Chiefs have faced some statuesque quarterbacks this year and some very mobile quarterbacks. In the statuesque category are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Austin Davis. Against these four teams the Chiefs have gone 3-1, and in the lone loss they gave Peyton and the Broncos all they could handle. The Chiefs have three blowout wins this year. Two have come against immobile quarterbacks Tom Brady and Austin Davis. The story against mobile quarterbacks is very different. The Chiefs have faced three mobile quarterbacks this year in Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill and Colin Kaepernick. Their record against mobile quarterbacks is 1-2, with Locker and the underwhelming Titans, a pretty good analog for Vick and the underwhelming Jets, handing the Chiefs their only blowout loss, as it turns out in Kansas City. If you want to attack the Chiefs with a pocket passer, good luck, they will likely beat you like a drum. But put them up against a running quarterback and the Chiefs lose their superhuman strength. It just so happens the Jets have perhaps the best running quarterback to ever play the game. Advantage: Jets.
Run, Run, Run
At a cursory glance it looks like the Chiefs have a pretty good run defense. They rank 10th in the NFL in yards allowed with 790. However, dig deeper and you find the soft underbelly of the Chief's defense. One reason the Chiefs rank as high as they do in rushing yards allowed is that they have only played seven games so far. In yards per game they only rank 18th in the NFL. In yards per attempt the Chiefs rank a lowly 27th. They have been fortunate to face many of the worst running teams in the NFL, facing San Diego, Denver, New England and St. Louis, ranked 31st, 26th, 23rd and 18th in yards per attempt in 2014. The Chiefs have done very well against those below average running teams, going 3-1 and giving Denver all they could handle in a 24-17 loss. Against teams with above average running games it's been a different story. The Chiefs have faced three teams with better than average running games: San Francisco, Tennessee and Miami. They have a 1-2 record in those games. The Jets are as good a running team as Kansas City has faced all year. With Vick running the show now and with Harvin aboard the Jets may be as good a running team as there is in the NFL. Kansas City struggles against good running teams; the Jets are a very good running team, 5th in the NFL in yards per carry. When the Chiefs give up more than 88 rushing yards they are 1-2 this year. The Jets have rushed for less than 90 yards only once this year. Advantage, Jets.
The Chiefs are currently 31st in the NFL in generating turnovers, better than only the lowly Jets in that category. They have only four interceptions on the year and have only recovered a single fumble. The Chiefs have only forced multiple turnovers in one game this year, against the Patriots, and have failed to generate a single turnover in four of their seven games. This should be music to Jets fans ears. The biggest reason the Jets have lost seven straight games this year is they have continually turned the ball over. The Jets are tied with the Jaguars for most offensive turnovers in the NFL with 18. However, Geno Smith, the cause of many of those turnovers, has been benched in favor of Michael Vick. Vick himself is not great at protecting the ball, but he probably represents an upgrade over Smith in this respect. This game against the Chiefs represents a chance for Vick and the Jets to get through a game relatively unscathed by turnovers for once. The Dolphins have turned the ball over in five of their seven games, have multiple turnovers in four games, and have turned the ball over three times in three games, yet played a turnover free game against the Chiefs. The Titans have turned the ball over multiple times in five of eight games yet played turnover free football against the Chiefs. The Rams have turned the ball over multiple times in three of seven games yet turned it over only once against the Chiefs. The Chiefs have proven to be a turnover prone team's best friend. For a team that has constantly shot itself in the foot with turnovers, this game should provide a much needed respite. Worst team in the NFL turning the ball over against second worst team generating turnovers. Something's gotta give. If this works in the Jets' favor we might finally see a Jets win.
No Big Plays
The Jets defense has struggled mightily giving up big plays. It's hardly a secret that with two cornerbacks who cannot defend the deep ball and a deep safety who has no idea what he's doing in deep help coverage the way to beat the Jets is to sling it deep. How fortunate then for the Jets that the Chiefs just don't put up big plays. Kansas City has managed all of three passes of more than 27 yards all year long, and has only done it in two games this year. This is the ultimate dink and dunk passing attack, with nary a deep threat in sight. The Chiefs rely on a good running attack, which the best run defense in football, the Jets, should be able to limit, and a high efficiency, extremely safe but not very dynamic short passing game . They literally have no deep threat in their arsenal. With the Chiefs' offense not threatening the deep end of the field the Jets should be able to contain the Chiefs running game and force Alex Smith to beat them with his arm. The good news: when the Chiefs have been held below 140 rushing yards they are 0-3. The Jets have held seven of eight opponents under 140 yards rushing. Alex Smith is not usually capable of carrying the team on his back. With no way to attack the Jets achilles heel and with an offense geared to slamming the ball into the NFL's best run defense, this game has the scent of a Jets upset wafting through the Kansas City air.
Houston, We Have A Problem
The Chiefs have an excellent pass rush. They are second in the NFL in sacks per game, trailing only Buffalo. Justin Houston is particulary dangerous, currently on pace to threaten the all time single season sack record. Slowing down this pass rush is a daunting task, and Michael Vick will very likely get taken down a few times. But the Jets may be better suited than most teams to slow down the Chiefs' fearsome pass rush. 14 of the Chiefs' 24 sacks this year have come from the pair of bookend edge rushers, Houston and Tamba Hali. The best way to slow down edge rushers is to run the ball right down their throats, again and again and again. The Jets offense is geared to run the ball a lot. The next best way to keep edge rushers at bay is to force them to defend the edge. Ways to do this include a quarterback that can get outside and make edge rushers who get upfield too quickly pay when they lose containment. The Jets have one of the best of these in Michael Vick. Another way to slow edge rushers down is to threaten the outside in the running game, forcing them to defend against the run. The Jets now have Percy Harvin, who can do this in jet sweeps, pitchouts, end arounds and reverses, and the Jets also can do this with read option looks and triple option looks, with two very fast guys in Vick and Harvin simultaneously threatening the edge. If the Jets can manage to keep the game close enough that they are not forced to abandon the run, then they can limit the number of opportunities for sacks by limiting pass plays and constantly threatening the edge. This should go a long way towards neutralizing Kansas City's biggest weapon in their pass defense.
Many of you will remember Josh Mauga as an always injured backup inside linebacker with the New York Jets. Some of you may be surprised to learn that Mauga is now not only a starting inside linebacker with the Chiefs, he is also their leading tackler.
The Jets released Mauga this year, and Kansas City picked him up. Mauga simply could not stay healthy, and the Jets ultimately lost patience. Mauga suffered a knee injury and a torn pectoral muscle in college and went undrafted in 2009, partially because of his injury history. He spent a year on the Jets' practice squad, then suffered a concussion in 2010 training camp. He finally was fully healthy in 2011 and played in all 16 games. Then more injuries. Mauga suffered another torn pectoral muscle in 2012, and in 2013 he suffered a back injury in training camp that landed him on injured reserve for the year.
Although Mauga was healthy in this year's training camp, the Jets decided to move on, and Mauga wound up in Kansas City, where, in a bit of irony, he quickly found himself with a starting job when star linebacker Derrick Johnson tore his achilles tendon in the season opener. Mauga has never looked back, leading all Chiefs in tackles by a wide margin.
Mauga will never be a star, but it's nice to see he's found his place and is thriving after suffering through so many setbacks. Let's just hope he doesn't thrive too much on Sunday against the Jets.
The Chiefs are favored this week against the Jets. That's as it should be. The Jets are 1-7 and should not be favored against any team left on the schedule. The Chiefs are 4-3, with quality wins against the Patriots and the Chargers. The Chiefs are also playing at home. That all sounds like a recipe for a Kansas City blowout win against the hapless Jets. But often times the game of football comes down to favorable or unfavorable matchups. Last week's game against the Bills had the Jets as favorites at home, but the matchups were terrible and the Bills blew the Jets out. This week is the polar opposite of that situation. The Chiefs are favored at home, and rightfully so. But many of the matchups in this game favor the Jets. The Jets hurt themselves with turnovers, but the Chiefs can't take advantage because they don't generate turnovers. The Jets struggle with deep passing, but the Chiefs have no deep threats. The Chiefs struggle against mobile quarterbacks, and the Jets have perhaps the most mobile quarterback in the NFL. The Chiefs struggle against good running teams, and the Jets may be the best running team the Chiefs have faced all year. The Chiefs struggle when they can't dominate on the ground, and the Jets have the best running defense in the NFL. These are an awful lot of matchups and trends that favor the Jets in this game. I smell the makings of an upset. If the Jets can avoid falling into a deep hole early and taking the running game off the table, and also avoid turning the ball over multiple times (always a challenge), this one just might turn into a much needed Jets win. All the pundits and talking heads will be picking the Chiefs on Sunday. Don't be surprised if they're all wrong.