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 foolishly go where smarter people fear to tread and try to establish some trends which might influence the outcome of this week'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 this week's game. Please feel free to supplement this article with any trends you've noticed. Now, let's get to it.
A Star Is Born
Ryan Tannehill early this year was a man whose time was running out as a starting NFL quarterback. After muddling through his first two years in the NFL turning the ball over too much, struggling with accuracy, and generally looking like a subpar starting quarterback, Tannehill went through the first three games this year with two interceptions, two fumbles, two losses, and all three games with a passer rating under 80. It looked like this might be Tannehill's last stand as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Then it just clicked for him. Over the subsequent eight games Tannehill has had a passer rating over 104 five times and has averaged a 100+ passer rating. He has turned the ball over just seven times in those eight games while passing for multiple touchdowns in six of the eight games. Tannehill has completed 70+% of his passes in six of the last eight games. In short, with time running out on his starting career, Tannehill has responded with a vengeance. Over the last eight games Tannehill has emerged as a legitimate star quarterback. Given that the Jets make journeymen quarterbacks look like stars and stars look like all time greats, the emergence of Tannehill does not bode well for the home team.
Death By A Thousand Cuts
The Dolphins spread the ball around in their passing attack. No Dolphin has exceeded 81 receiving yards in a game all year. No Dolphin is on track for even 900 yards receiving. But four different Dolphins have led the team in receiving at least one game this year, and four different Dolphins are on track for 500+ receiving yards. The Dolphins have completed passes to seven or more targets in every game this year, and have completed passes to eight or more targets in all but two games. This does not bode well for the Jets. A team that has one dominant target can be schemed against a bit more easily by this pass defense challenged team. If the opponent relies on one dominant receiver a Rex defense has a fighting chance to take him away, even with this collection of jayvee defensive backs. On the other hand, when the defense cannot game plan around stopping just one major threat, but must be prepared for multiple threats that could come from any skill position on the field, this defense has little chance of succeeding. Then the defense must plan on winning multiple matchups, and this Jets team does not have a single player on defense that can ever be relied upon to win his matchup in pass defense. The likely outcome is something like the Kansas City game, where the quarterback hits one high percentage pass after another, to multiple targets, and all of the Jets back seven defenders are powerless to stop them from taking anything they want, whenever they want. This one could get ugly.
Twenty Two Or Bust
The Dolphins have scored 22 points or more in all but three games this year. The Jets have scored less than 22 points in all but three games this year. The Jets have given up 22 or more points in all but two games this year. The Dolphins have given up less than 22 points in all but four games this year, two of which came against first ballot hall of fame quarterbacks. Unless Geno Smith and the Jets can find a way to break out of their season long scoring doldrums this shapes up as yet another Jets loss.
Follow The Bouncing Ball
The ball has not bounced the Jets' way this year in terms of turnovers. The Jets rank dead last in the league in defensive turnovers generated, with only 7 all year. This is a historically bad defensive performance in turning the ball over. Meanwhile the Dolphins have been very good at generating turnovers, ranking seventh in the league with 20 turnovers generated. The Dolphins have generated multiple turnovers on defense in six of their eleven games. Meanwhile the Jets have generated multiple turnovers just once all year, and have only generated so much as a single turnover four times in eleven games. On offense, quarterback Geno Smith has only had one start without a turnover, and the Jets have only gone without multiple turnovers on offense in two of Geno's eight starts. Needless to say the turnover battle does not favor the Jets in this game. Unless Geno's time on the bench has somehow cured him of the coughing it up syndrome, this could be a long day for Gang Green.
The Dolphins have lost five times this season. Their losses have come against the Bills, the Chiefs, the Packers, the Lions and the Broncos. Every one of those teams has a winning record this year. Four of the five are at least three games over .500, and three of the five have eight wins on the season. In fact, the Dolphins have faced only three sub .500 teams all year; the Jaguars, the Raiders and the Bears. The Dolphins have dominated each of those teams by double digits, have scored 27 or more points in each game, and have not allowed more than 14 points in any of those three games. If you're looking for a trap game for the opponent, this week is probably not going to provide it. The Dolphins take care of business against lesser foes. The Jets are not likely to catch them napping.
Many Happy Returns
Finally we come to a trend that favors the Jets. It's not much, but it's something. Only six teams in the NFL have allowed a kick return for a touchdown this season. The Dolphins are one of those teams. The Dolphins are also fourth worst in the NFL at defending kick returns, allowing an average of 28.6 yards per return. Percy Harvin has never gone a season in which he has played more than one game without at least one kickoff return for a touchdown. Harvin has zero return touchdowns in 2014. If Harvin is going to keep his streak alive, this game would seem to be his best chance to do it. Look for Harvin to break a long return on Monday night, maybe even score a touchdown.
This game looks all wrong for the Jets. A turnover prone Jets team facing a Dolphins team adept at turning the opponent over. A bad Jets team against a team that destroys bad teams. A Jets team that can't score against a Dolphins team that is rarely scored upon much. A horrible Jets secondary against one of the league's hottest quarterbacks. There really is no reason at all to like the Jets in this game. If you believe in the old cliche that these two teams don't like each other, and you can throw out the records when they meet, I guess you can hang your hat on that. Other than that slender reed of hope, this looks like a blowout loss waiting to happen. Here's to bitter division rivalries, worn out cliches and unlikely victories.