Jets/Lions: running game key
It’s easy to look at the match-up between the Jets and Lions and think that the Lions will rely on their passing game when facing the stellar run defense of New York. On the opposite side of the ball, it is easy to think that Geno Smith will struggle in the pass game because, while improving, the former Mountaineer has still been erratic at times. The key to the game will be how the Jets try to find success on offense.
The Lions have been mostly in nickel defenses (with two linebackers) using a traditional front seven on less than 50% of their defensive snaps. The loss of Stephen Tulloch, who was 5th in the NFL in Run Stop Percentage before he injured his ACL celebrating against the Packers, will force more frequent use of Ashlee Palmer (11 total snaps in 2014, 34.3% of the snaps in 2013) and Tahir Whitehead. While Whitehead will be the man stepping into the MLB spot, Palmer could be a liability at SLB against first down passes, struggling in coverage during the preseason (giving up a passer rating of 105.3 when thrown at).
Regardless, the Jets will be smart to use their best weapon in the backfield; running back Chris Ivory early and often. The former Saint has been one of the toughest backs to take down in 2014, posting an incredibly high rate of missed tackles forced with 16 in just 38 touches. Even “Beast Mode” doesn’t boast a rate that high with his 20 missed tackles in 60 touches.
During the last two weeks, each of these run defenses have produced the two worst games of Eddie Lacy’s career, so both are coming in with patterns of success. Despite that, the Jets ability to run the ball should be the key. If the Jets can put Geno Smith in positions where they are not asking his passing to do too much, New York will give themselves a good chance at an upset.