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.
One Win Wonders
The Steelers have had a prolific offense in 2014. They rank 3rd in the NFL in yards and 7th in points scored. The Steelers have scored 30 or more points five times, 40 or more points twice, and more than 50 once this year. They have only been held below 30 points in four games. Two of those four games came against the worst two teams the Steelers have played this year. The Steelers were held to 24 points by the 1-7 Tampa Bay Bucs, the only team in the NFL giving up more points per game than the Jets. The Steelers were held to 17 points by the woeful 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars, perhaps the worst team in the NFL and a defense that has given up a single point less than the Jets on the season. One win teams have had surprising success shutting down the Steelers' high flying offense, as have the worst defensive teams in football. The Jets fit right in with the Bucs and the Jaguars. A one win team nestled snugly between the 30th ranked Jaguars defense and the 32nd ranked Bucs defense in terms of points allowed per game, the Jets and their 31st ranked defense seem a perfect fit. Bring on the Steelers!
Do Run, Run, Run, Do Run, Run.
At a cursory glance it looks like the Steelers have a decent run defense. Pittsburgh ranks 11th in the NFL in running yards allowed per game at 102.8. Pretty good, right? Well, maybe. The Steelers have been a Jekyl and Hyde act in stopping the run. Five times the Steelers have held their opponents to a miniscule 63 yards rushing or less. Four times the Steelers have been gashed on the ground for 132 yards or more. There has been no happy medium; either the Steelers have been very, very good at stopping the run or they have been horrid. The Steelers have faced three teams in the top 10 in rushing yards in 2014: the Texans, the Ravens (twice), and the Browns (twice). Those three teams account for all four of the horrid run defense performances of the Steelers this year. The remaining four teams the Steelers have faced this year rank 15th, 20th, 26th and 29th in rushing yards per game. The Steelers have shut down each of the ground games of these mediocre to bad running teams. The Jets are a better running team than any team the Steelers have faced this season. The Jets rank 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 5th in yards per attempt, better in both categories than any Steelers opponent this year. In the four games where the Steelers have given up 100 yards or more on the ground, two have been blowout wins by the Steelers' opponent, and two have been close Steelers victories. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but all of Big Ben's three interceptions on the year have come in those four games. If the Jets are to have any chance at all at staying in this game, they must pound the ball on the ground, again and again. Do run, run run, do run, run.
On The Road To Ruin
Ben Roethlisberger has been on a tear recently, throwing for an astounding six touchdowns in each of his last two games. That gives him 22 touchdowns on the year and puts him on pace to shatter his best career mark in touchdowns, as well as passer rating, yards and interception percentage. In a borderline Hall of Fame career Roethlisberger has never been better than his herculean efforts in 2014. Nonetheless, his incredible 2014 season has been built largely on the last two games of other worldly success. Prior to the last two games Roethlisberger was having a fairly pedestrian (for him) season, with only ten touchdown passes in seven games. The Steelers were home the last two games. In 2014 they have been home five times in nine games. In those five home games the Steelers have averaged 35.6 points per game on offense while achieving a 4-1 record. Big Ben has thrown for 18 touchdowns in those five home games and has had only one home game without multiple touchdown passes. On the road it has been a different story. On the road the Steelers are 2-2 and have averaged only 17.5 points per game on offense. Big Ben's Superman impression has turned into Clark Kent on the road, where he has thrown only 4 touchdown passes along with two of his three interceptions on the year. In short, playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh this year has been an almost futile task. But outside the cozy confines of Heinz Field the Steelers have been vulnerable. Fortunately for the Jets Sunday's game is at MetLife Stadium. Perhaps some good home cooking will do wonders to revive this awful Jets team on Sunday.
Bad Against The Pass? No Problem!
The Steelers have played five games in 2014 against bottom 12 pass defenses in terms of passer rating allowed: Tampa Bay (30th), Carolina (26th), Jacksonville (24th), and Baltimore twice (21st). In those five games the Steelers have been held to 24 points or less three of the four times that has happened in 2014. The Steelers have averaged 25.4 points per game and have a 3-2 record against bad pass defenses. Against bad pass defenses on the road the Steelers have averaged only 20 points per game. In contrast against good pass defenses Indianapolis (15th) and Cleveland twice (1st), the Steelers have averaged 27.7 points per game. Obviously the secret to controlling the Steelers' prolific offense is fielding a terrible pass defense, preferably at home. How fortunate for the Jets that they just so happen to have the worst pass defense in NFL history, and are playing at home. Victory is virtually assured.
We've looked at a number of trends that appear to favor the Jets in this game. In case it is not already obvious, this analysis was done mostly with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Worst pass defense in NFL history against a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback playing the best football of his career? Advantage, Jets! A one win team against a first place team? Advantage, Jets! Such trends should not be taken very seriously, but at 1-8 and fielding a non-competitive team many weeks, it's the best this moribund franchise can cling to for hope at the moment.
The matchups in this game mostly favor the Steelers, many in overwhelming fashion. Who on this Jets team can cover Antonio Brown, one of the five or so best receivers in the NFL? Who can stop Le'veon Bell or Heath Miller or Martavis Bryant or Markus Wheaton? Most importantly of all, how can the Jets possibly shut down a red hot Ben Roethlisberger? There are no easy answers here, just virtually unsolvable conundrums. The best hope for a Jets win lies in pounding the ball on the ground over and over and hoping the Steelers can't stop it. That hasn't been a recipe for success much so far this year for the Jets. A Jets victory on Sunday would be startling. So we cling to dubious trends and hope for the best. Such is the life of a Jets fan in the Age of Idzik.