Welcome back to Trends to Track, a weekly look at some of the developing trends shown by the upcoming opponent. This is the inaugural installment of Trends to Track 2014. Up until now there haven't been enough games to establish any trends. Even in Week 4 the existence of trends might be illusory due to an extremely small number of data points, but we are going to 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 Tight Ends Justify the Means
The Lions have to date had an outstanding defense. In fact, in terms of yards allowed the Lions are currently the #1 defensive team in the NFL, with your beloved Jets surprisingly right behind in the #2 spot. The Lions are #1 in rushing defense, and #3 in passing defense, so it hasn't exactly been easy figuring out how to attack this defense. Opposing running backs have been stifled to the tune of a league leading 2.8 yards per carry, and so far this year no opposing running back has managed to gain even 50 yards on the ground against the Lions. Wide receivers haven't fared much better. No wide receiver has managed so much as 60 yards receiving against this ferocious defense, and the Lions have only given up a single wide receiver TD all year. So how do you attack this seemingly impregnable fortress of a defense? Two words: tight ends. In three games tight ends have combined for 16 catches, 178 yards and two of the three passing TDs the Lions have allowed this season. That amounts to 33% of the yardage and 67% of the TDs the Lions have given up through the air. It's not exactly a gigantic weakness but it's a small crack in the armor which the Jets need to try to exploit. People have been calling for two tight end sets and unleashing the Amaro; now is the time to do it. If the Jets are going to have any success passing the ball against the Lions, the tight ends will likely play an outsized role in that success.
Stinginess Is Next To Winningfulness
So far this season has unfolded as an extension of the last five seasons in that the Jets have shown great character. Generosity is a wonderful character trait, and in fact the Jets have once again been among the most benevolent of NFL teams, very kindly gifting the ball to their opposite numbers six times in the first three games. A big part of this has been a result of QB Geno Smith's growing pains, but the opponents have also played a role. The Bears lead the NFL with eight defensive turnovers, and the Packers are tied for 7th with five. The Lions on the other hand, as fearsome as their defense has been, have not been all that successful in generating turnovers. Through three games the Lions have generated only three defensive turnovers. This presents an opportunity for Geno and the Jets to reform their stellar character and start turning Scrooge. If the Jets can become stingy with the ball and stop gift wrapping it to their opponent against a Lions team that has not been all that successful in creating turnovers, the Jets should have a fighting chance to squeak out a win at home.
It Is Better To Receive Than To Give
The Lions have been among the few teams who have exhibited a tendency towards giving til it hurts as much as the Jets. Like the Jets, the Lions have gifted the ball to opponents six times this season, making the two teams tied for 5th in the NFL charity competition. Like the Jets, this is not an isolated set of circumstances. This is a long term trend born of a quarterback who just always seems in the holiday spirit. In 64 NFL starts Matthew Stafford has been intercepted 76 times and fumbled 30 times. Backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush have also been known for their extraordinary generosity, having combined for 21 fumbles in the last 3+ years, and wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate sometimes join in the fun, having combined for another 11 fumbles the last 3+ years. Sunday's game may present the Jets with multiple opportunities to practice the delicate social grace of being a gracious receiver of gifts. If it does, the Jets must remember not to look a gift Lion in the mouth. Instead, the Jets must do their utmost not to spoil the giving mood and simply accept what is offered. If the Jets can become stingier on offense and graciously accepting on defense then it will indeed prove to be better to receive than to give, and the result may well have Jets fans everywhere embracing their inner Scrooge while celebrating a much needed win in JetLife stadium.
One thing the Jets don't want to do on Sunday, and that's embrace their inner Lion. Or their outer Lion, like this guy: