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 funny thing has happened to the Jets recently. They've managed to hold onto the football. After starting the season generously giving away the football to any team that asked nicely, the Jets have recently channeled their inner Scrooge. Over the last seven games the Jets have given away just five turnovers, a startling turnaround for what has been one of the NFL's most turnover prone teams for nearly all of Rex Ryan's six year tenure. Don't look now, and I wouldn't be surprised if you refused to believe it, but the Jets are now an average NFL team in terms of turning the ball over, ranking 18th in that category, with just one turnover on offense more than the Miami Dolphins. Since the two teams last met the Jets have actually turned the ball over less than the Dolphins. In addition, over the last seven games the Jets have generated nine turnovers on defense, giving them a turnover differential of + 4 in the second half of the season. Will wonders never cease. In the second half of the season the Dolphins have given away the football 10 times and generated only six turnovers on defense, for a -4 turnover differential. It defies all our notions of what this Jets team is, but in this game, the turnover trends pretty soundly favor the Jets. Go figure.
4th Quarter Geno
In 2013 Geno Smith gave Jets fans a sliver of hope by closing the season with his strongest four game stretch of the year. In 2014 history repeats. Over the last three games Geno has had a passer rating over 80 each game, only the second such three game stretch of his career. In so doing Geno has managed to lift himself out of the basement in NFL quarterback ratings, as he now ranks above both Blake Bortles and Josh McCown, each by a fraction of a point. The result of Geno's mini -surge has been a stretch of games where the Jets took the Vikings to overtime, beat the Titans and lost to the Patriots by a single point. It isn't much, but it's the closest thing to competitive this team has been all season. Geno Smith, for whatever reason, saves his best play for the fourth quarter of the season. Perhaps he will end this season with a flourish in Miami.
For most of this season the Jets have not been particularly competitive, rarely ending games within a touchdown of winning the game. All that has changed recently. As the turnovers have begun to go the Jets' way and Geno Smith has settled down into at least mediocre, as opposed to awful, play, the Jets have become a much more competitive football team. Over the last six games the Jets have only managed two wins, but they have been within a touchdown of winning in five of the six games. One loss was in overtime, another was by a single point, and yet another was the three point loss in the first Dolphins game. This Jets team the last six weeks has become a tough out.
Defending Our Airspace
Don't look now but the Jets have begun to figure out how to defend the pass. After a disastrous start to the season in which opposing quarterbacks pretty much took whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, however they wanted it, the Jets have slowly righted the ship and begun to defend their airspace. The Jets surrendered a pitiful 24 touchdown passes in the first nine games of the season, an average of almost three per game. Over the last six weeks the Jets have surrendered just six touchdown passes, an average of just one per game. In four of the last six games the Jets have held opposing quarterbacks under an 82 passer rating, including top quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. As a result, after giving up 24 or more points in eight of their first nine games, the Jets defense has allowed 24 or more points in just two of the last six games. With the defensive backfield the Jets are trotting out there every week, the turnaround in pass defense has been nothing short of remarkable, and it gives the Jets a chance to win nearly every week.
Ryan Tannehill has come into his own in this, his third season in the NFL. 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. Tannehill has a passer rating over 98 in seven of his last 12 games. He now ranks 15th in the NFL in passer rating, 12th in touchdown passes and 4th in completion percentage. Tannehill is not yet elite, but he is now a legitimately good NFL quarterback. However, when Ryan Tannehill plays the Jets, he generally crumbles. Against the Jets Ryan Tannehill has a career passer rating of just 66.1, the lowest passer rating by Tannehill against any team he has played more than once, and more than 20% worse than his NFL career average of 83.9. Tannehill is coming into his own, but thus far the Jets have had his number.
The Bottom Line
The Dolphins are a better team than the Jets. At 8-7 to the Jets 3-12, this should not be in question. But a number of interesting trends point to a more competitive game on Sunday than might otherwise be expected. While the Dolphins have the home team advantage, they are coming off an emotional win last Sunday that nonetheless ended in the team being eliminated from the playoffs. They already know their coach will be back next year, which means they are playing for nothing but pride. It would not be surprising to see a Dolphin letdown on Sunday. Meanwhile the Jets will be playing the last game of the Ryan era, and it would not be surprising to see them come out on fire to try and send off their coach in style. The last week of the season for two teams eliminated from playoff contention is always tricky to predict. You never know which starters might be rested, and who might be more motivated. Many trends point to a possible Jets victory to end this disastrous season. We'll shortly see how those trends play out.