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.
Prosperity, Enemy Mine
Geno Smith is a quarterback who has reacted with revulsion to prosperity. In 27 games Geno has posted a QB rating over 80 (a rather low bar for prosperity, but it will have to do for this limited quarterback) just 10 times. In the following game the first nine times, Geno has posted a 2-7 record with an aggregate 56.1 QB rating. He has managed to follow up an 80+ QB rating with another 80+ QB rating only twice, in his three game winning streak spanning the last two games of the 2013 season and the first game of the 2014 season. Geno just can't seem to tolerate prosperity.
Last week Geno posted his tenth career game with an 80+ QB rating. This game provides him with as good an opportunity as he will likely ever have to follow up his modest success with more success. Tennessee has a poor pass defense. They have an even worse run defense. If Tennessee tries to stack the line to shut down the run game Geno should have ample opportunities to attack a bad pass defense through the air. If the Titans do not sell out against the run the Jets potent running game should be able to gash the Titans' porous run defense. There should be no great options for the Titans, only less poor ones. If Geno is unable to take advantage with a good game this week it bodes very ill for his chances of ever becoming a consistent threat in the passing game.
Sack And Pillage
The Jets' pass rush has fallen off a cliff the second half of the season. Early in the year the Jets were tops in the NFL in sacks. They now stand at a mediocre 13th and sinking. Fortunately for the Jets the Titans do a very poor job protecting the quarterback. They have allowed 41 sacks in 13 games this season, tying the Titans with the Jets and the Rams for 4th most sacks allowed in 2014. If ever there was a game to get the pass rush untracked, this is it. Coming into the year this Jets line was talked about as the possible reincarnation of the famed and fearsome New York Sack Exchange. Unfortunately they have not come close to living up to that billing. Now would be a good time to break out.
The Titans have a very bad run defense which has gotten worse as the year has progressed. Over the last six games the Titans have given up 200+ rushing yards twice and 140+ rushing yards five times. Over that stretch the Titans have averaged more than 160 yards rushing allowed per game. The Jets come into the game trailing only the Seahawks in rushing yards, averaging 150 yards per game. The league's worst rushing defense against the league's second best rushing offense looks like a mismatch. Look for a strong Jets rushing attack on Sunday, probably led by Chris Johnson, who may be given the lead role in his "revenge" game against his former employer.
Running Out Of Gas
The matchup in the running games on the opposite side of the ball look like another mismatch. The last time the Titans managed more than 83 yards on the ground was more than two months ago, way back on October 5th. The Titans simply have no running game whatsoever. The only back on the team with more than 220 yards rushing is Bishop Sankey, with a modest total of 499 yards. Next comes old friend Shonn Greene at 220 yards. No back with more than 10 carries averages better than 3.8 yards per carry for the Titans. Match this up with the Jets 5th ranked run defense, which averages less than 88 yards and 3.5 yards per carry allowed, and it seems very unlikely that the Titans will be able to mount much of a rushing attack. This should be a big advantage for the Jets.
Turnovers: A Jets Advantage?!
How can this be? Is it even possible? Can the turnovers battle actually favor the Jets in this game? Well, maybe. The Titans generate more turnovers on defense than the Jets. No surprise there; the Jets are tied for last in the NFL in this category, with 10. However, the Titans aren't exactly titans of the turnover either, having generated just 16 all year, good for 26th in the NFL. On offense the Titans actually turn the ball over more than the Jets, 24 to 22. Recent trends actually are in the Jets favor in the turnover battle, perhaps the only game all year that we can say this with a straight face. Over the last seven games the Titans have turned the ball over a generous 17 times, while generating only seven turnovers on defense, good for a -10 turnover differential over those seven games. The Jets over the same stretch have turned the ball over 10 times, with three turnover free games, and have generated seven turnovers on defense, for a -3 turnover differential over the last seven games. As unlikely, nay downright incredible as this may seem, the turnover battle may actually favor the Jets in this game. Will wonders never cease.
Big Plays Jets Kryptonite
The Jets give up many too many big plays in the secondary. The Titans are a big play offense. The Titans have four players who have generated seven or more 20+ yard pass plays this season. Contrast that with the Jets, who have only one player, Eric Decker, who has generated more than four pass plays of 20+ yards. The Titans are averaging more than three such plays per game. Three of the Titans' four top receivers are averaging 14.6 yards or more per reception, and all four are averaging more than any Jets receiver with more than 10 receptions. In contrast the Jets don't have a single receiver with more than 10 receptions averaging more than 12.2 yards per reception. The Titans don't have a good offense, but they are adept at making the occasional big play. This is particularly worrisome with the Jets horrible secondary, whose specialty is giving up long pass plays. Titans' tight end Delanie Walker is of special concern, as he is 2nd among all NFL tight ends in yards per reception, 3rd in YAC, and 4th in receiving yards. If the Jets cornerbacks are awful, their options to defend the tight end may be worse. The Jets hold several advantages in this game, but this is their achilles heal. If the Jets end up losing this game, it will likely be because the pass defense gave up several long pass plays for touchdowns to the likes of Delanie Walker, Nate Washington and/or Kendall Wright. One can envision a game marked by several long Jets drives grinding it out on the ground, only to bog down in the red zone and end in field goals, while the Titans are bottled up most of the game, only to burn the Jets on a few long pass plays for touchdowns. For those looking for the best possible draft position, this is the likely path to victory for the Titans against a barely there Jets secondary
As you might expect in a game between two bad teams, the trends here might favor either team. Both teams are really, really bad on offense. Both feature young struggling quarterbacks who are getting second chances after being benched. Both teams are adept at shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers. The Jets should be able to dominate on the ground on both sides of the ball, while the Titans should be able to exploit the Jets terrible secondary with big play strikes through the air. This may be the only game all year other than opening day in which the Jets are legitimate favorites, but it is far from a certain victory. Playing at home, with a big play offense against the Jets big play friendly defense, anything can happen here. The game will likely come down to which team wins the turnover battle and whether the Jets can keep the Titans from making too many big plays through the air. For those looking to draft position first and foremost, here's your chance to cheer every time the Jets back seven gives up yet another disastrous play. This is what rooting for the Jets has come down to. Sigh.