Breaking Down the Jets vs the Texans
There are few things more exciting in the sporting world than opening week in the NFL. Every team and fan believes that the sky is the limit for where they can go. The Houston Texans for the first time ever are a trendy ďdark horseĒ playoff pick after back to back 8-8 seasons marking the best stretch in franchise history. They will go into the season with expectations and pressure that they have never felt before. The Texans have a collection of talented players on both sides of the football and know how to score points, but they will have to put together 16 complete games this year if they really want to have a chance at the playoffs.
Jets Offense vs. Texans Defense
Pro Bowl DE Mario Williams has 26 sacks the last two seasons and is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. He has tremendous size and speed and had four multi-sack games and four forced fumbles in 2008 where he just dominated the opposition. MLB DeMeco Ryans is a good tackler and big hitter that always seems to be around the football. Those two players more or less make up the Houston Texans defense, which has been nothing short of a disaster. Houston switched defensive coordinators in the offseason and wants to play a more uphill aggressive style under Frank Bush, who is preaching that the team needs to be more tough and hit much harder, a message that does not seem to have sunk in based on the preseason.
The Texans problems begin with stopping the run. While Williams is a tremendous pass rusher he offers little in the way of run support. Runners go uncontained to the outside grinding up big chunks of yardage before Ryans usually can get there for the stop. The Texans need to see more development from DT Amobi Okoye, who was drafted to disrupt and penetrate the middle of the field, but the youngster has been somewhat overwhelmed in two seasons and seemed to take a step backwards in 2008. The Texans are trying to find another DT to start next to Okoye, but nobody has shown the ability to claim the job. Shaun Cody will get the starting nod, but they will likely rotate a number of players in and out. Houston hopes that top drat pick Brian Cushing aids Ryans in stopping the run, but Cushing has nursed a knee sprain in the preseason and missed valuable time. The Texans hope Cushing is the kind of player that is just always around the football. The teams other OLB, Xavier Adibi, has been so bad that he may have played himself out of a starting job that was going to be handed to him. Overall the front seven will be considered suspect until they can prove otherwise.
When it comes to stopping the pass, Houston needs to rely on their pass rush. The team brought in DE Antonio Smith from Arizona who should benefit from Williams. Smith is quick and could nab 6-8 sacks a year due to Williams. They are also high on rookie Connor Barwin who would allow Williams to move around the line to create mismatches with the opposition. When the Texans fail to collapse the pocket the opposition has been able to pick apart the Texans secondary. The Texans donít have the threats to intercept the football and ranked in the bottom 1/3 of the league in almost every statistical category in 2008. It only looks to be worse in 2009. The teams best corner, Dunta Robinson, refused to report to the team all offseason over a contract dispute and will likely not be in football shape for week 1. While the team would normally try to limit his snaps, the expected starter opposite Robinson, Jacques Reeves, is out with a fractured fibula and will not return for a few more weeks. That leaves Fred Bennett as the last man standing and he will have to show big improvements as he steps up a level. Former Patriot Eugene Wilson will be expected to help the team with some of their coverage and run stopping issues, but he is day to day after being hit with an illegal block by former Jets QB Brett Favre. Depth is a key concern.
All Jets fans are going to be excited to watch the debut of QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez will be the first ever rookie to start a season opener for the team and the potential looks to be there. Sanchez flashed during the preseason showing good arm strength, good mobility, and the ability to throw on the run. Sanchez seemed to get better as games went on as he settled into a comfort zone and certainly showed that he could learn from past mistakes. However, this will probably be a much different speed than the preseason for the young QB and the Jets likely will not ask him to do much on the road in week 1. Last seasonís rookie wonders, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, threw a limited amount of passes, most of which were short high percentage throws, to allow the game to not overcome them. They also opened up against what were considered poor defenses on paper, which is what the Texans are considered. This is one of the few games where the Jets look to have a decided advantage in the coverage battle and they will try to use Cotchery and Stuckey on some safe routes to get Sanchez a few easy throws. TE Dustin Keller and RB Leon Washington will likely be the primary focus of the passing attack. Houston has not done a great job covering the tight end at all and their ability to cover players out of the backfield was terrible in 2008. With an overaggressive line the Jets should be able to get Washington and Keller open quite a bit and allow them to use their athletic ability to take a short throw and turn it into a long gain.
However, this should not be a bombs away attack by any means. Rex Ryan is going to want to establish the run early and test the Texans defense. Last year he watched the Ravens Willis McGahee tear the Texans apart defensively and he knows that Thomas Jones and Washington are far better backs than McGahee. The threat of the run is something that could open the wideouts down the field if they wanted to take a chance at a big throw to David Clowney. It could be a big game for the Jets runners. Last season teams were able to effectively use two backs against Houston to rack up big yards per carry and get involved in the passing game. With both Jets players effectively looking for new contracts in 2010, expect them to come right out and give a great showing.
The Jets have to establish themselves as a physical team up front starting in week one. Houston is the type of team that the Jets should just physically blow away up the gut and on the right side. If they canít do that it is going to be hard for the Jets to get the reputation that the coach wants them to have. In particular this is a big game for LT DíBrickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson has proclaimed that he is ready to take the next step this season and will be tested often by going up against Williams for a majority of the game. Ferguson has had a tendency to jump offside when he is feeling a bit overwhelmed and that problem reared its head against the Giants this preseason. The team canít afford to give up 5 yards here and there and expect to be a running offense. If Ferguson gets manhandled by Williams there will be a lot of external talk that he is the weak point of the line.
Jets Defense vs. Texans Offense
There is no doubt that Houston has the potential to be one of the elite offenses in the NFL, which is why they have been predicted to make a run into the playoffs. Gary Kubiak comes from the Mike Shannahan wing of coaching and he knows how to design an offense and score big points. The biggest key to their offense is the health of QB Matt Schaub. When Schaub plays he is effective and a perfect fit for the offense, but he is extremely injury prone and is unlikely to ever last 16 games. He already will be nursing an ankle injury in week 1 that will limit his ability to move in the pocket. Schaubís best asset is that he has a great connection with WR Andre Johnson, who is arguably the best WR in the game. Johnson exploded for a league leading 115 receptions for 1,575 yards in 2008. Had Schaub not been injured those numbers may have been even better as he was on a 16 game pace to reach over 1,700 yards when playing with Schaub. Johnson helps make life easier for all of the other players in the offense. WR Kevin Walter became a big play threat last season and was responsible for 8 touchdowns, while TE Owen Daniels quietly had the third most yards in the NFL at his position, often finding himself wide open underneath while everyone paid attention to the receivers. Walter is not going to be 100% for the game due to a hamstring injury, but is expected to play. Andre Davis, who is a downfield player, will get the start if Walter doesnít play. Steve Slaton is a dangerous player out of the backfield. Slaton is not a horse that is going to grind out 3,4, and 5 yards a carry but once he gets into the open field he is deadly. Outside of Adrian Peterson Slaton may be the most dangerous big play back in the league. In 2008 he had 13 games with a play that went for at least 19 yards and in 9 of those games those big plays went for over 30. If you take those huge plays out of his stats, Slatonís average falls from 4.8 yards per carry to a miserable 3.4. The Texans would rather use Slaton in a role that the Jets envision using Washington and allow the bigger Chris Brown to wear out the defense. Houston needs better play from their line if they want to actually have a more balanced attack, which Coach Kubiak insists that he wants this season rather than the 35 passes a game they had last year.
The Texans offensive line is no longer the swiss cheese group of years past and they run a zone blocking scheme that has given the Jets fits, but by no means are they a group of players that is going to dominate the line.
This is the big debut of the unit that is supposed to carry the Jets to a winning record. The results this preseason were not that encouraging and they will be going into the game down two of their better players as Shaun Ellis and Calvin Pace will both be suspended. The Jets look to be strong up the middle with Kris Jenkins back as NT being backed up by prized free agent LB Bart Scott and a healthy David Harris. Harris has quietly had a tremendous camp and been the Jets biggest impact player in the preseason. With Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard at safety, one has to like the Jets chances for any teams that want to test the middle of the football field. More suspect will be the Jets on the outside where veteran Marques Douglas and relatively unproven Mike DeVito get the start at defensive end. With limited depth they may get more reps than normal which could wear them down at the end. Perhaps the biggest focus of the day, both by the fans and the Texans staff, will be on OLB Vernon Gholston who is getting the start in place of the suspended Pace. Gholston has tremendous athletic ability but was unable to see the field in 2008. The Jets defense needs him to realize that pass rushing potential to cover for a group of corners that simply look unable to cover. With Darrelle Revis slowly becoming the best corner in the NFL, Lito Sheppard is going to see a ton of balls thrown his way. Sheppard has always been a feast or famine type player, but has been mediocre in recent years and was so bad this preseason that he would have been a potential cut if he was not a ďnameĒ. The players behind him do not exactly instill confidence if he is ineffective.
The Jets defense has to have two goals this week. The first is to eliminate Slaton as a threat to keep the Texans one dimensional. The last thing the Jets want to do is allow Slaton to excite the home crowd and deliver a backbreaking 50 yard play. The Jets have shown to be somewhat of an emotional team on defense and are going to get penalized if they find themselves giving up huge chunks of yardage. By eliminating the run they can also load up on the blitz packages, which should help Gholston. The second key is to get a pass rush on Schaub. Schaub was sacked multiple times in 6 of his 11 games last season, which was the same number from his first season in Houston. In these multisack games, Schaubís record is 4-8 with 14 INTs to just 8 Tds and 230 passing yards per game. In the games where he isnít getting hit Schuab has a 6-4 record (one loss was a game he left after just 5 attempts) with 24 TDs and only 5 INTs and nearly 255 yards per game. New Yorkís coaching staff will have to pull out every trick they can to get into the backfield and harass Schaub. LB Bryan Thomas, who has been very active this preseason and is likely in a contract year, needs to step up in the absence of Pace. Thomas has shown some ability to get into the backfield and has to do it in week 1. Expect Harris and Rhodes to get their share of blitz opportunities as they may be the Jets two best right now for potential to reach the QB.
If the team can not get to the QB it is going to pose big problems for the Jets pass defense. Houston has so many weapons that it will be hard to see them keeping the Texans out of the end zone. The one major benefit the Jets have is that Revis should be able to play man up on Johnson. The Texans are 9-3 in the last two years when Johnson goes for over 100 yards and 5-8 in games where he does not hit the century mark. Occasionally he has relative no-show games with four receptions or less and that is what the Jets have to hope for this week. If Revis does not need help, it will allow Rhodes and Leonhard to help out elsewhere where it will likely be needed. The matchup with Daniels could be a nightmare because the Jets need Thomas to rush the passer, but at the same time he may be the best option to cover Daniels and not allow him the extra yards after he catches the ball. Whomever starts opposite Johnson will have the opportunity to have a huge game. The Jets will catch a big break if Walter is out which hurts the depth of the passing attack and will mean unproven wideouts matching up against an inferior secondary.
Houston has three big special team assets. The main one is punt returner Jacoby Jones who is one of the best in the league at returning punts. He had two for touchdowns last season and he will be facing one of the worst punters in the NFL. Kris Brown is a very good kicker with a big leg, who has become extremely accurate this last few years. The team also has an excellent kick coverage unit which will be put to the test against the Jets. Matt Turk is Houstonís punter and ranks near the bottom of the NFL. He always gives the other team a chance to do something with the punt.
The Jets absolutely can not allow themselves to lose the game because they can not punt a football 40 yards. The Jets have neglected the position for two years and did not do enough this offseason to find a replacement for Reggie Hodges, having to wait until the day after cuts to claim Titan punter AJ Trapasso. Trapasso had two highlights this preseason- running a fake punt for a touchdown and punting the ball into the Cowboys new video screen- but his bottom line results were no better than Hodges. This may just be a one week tryout. Look for Leonhard to have a chance to make a mark on a punt return this week.
This is the biggest season in the coaching career of Gary Kubiak. He has done a good job changing the culture and not being an NFL doormat, but he has done a terrible job improving the defense and he has put all his faith in a QB that can not stay on the field. If his team does not get over the hump this season he may be looking for a new job. Kubiak is stressing the importance of starting the season strong as the team is only 3-9 under him in the first quarter of the season and has never had more than 3 wins during the first eight weeks, more or less ending their postseason hopes before the halfway point of the season. He has to be playing meaningful football in December to retain his job.
Rex Ryan has certainly made news with his mouth since getting the job, but he will now have his chance to back up those words with an on the field product. If Ryan finds a way to win he is going to be a very popular person in NY. He is the complete opposite from Eric Mangini giving the fans and the media access to his team and his thoughts. He talks as much as Herman Edwards did, but isnít just a soundbite filled with fluff. Ryan speaks what is on his mind, regardless of whose feeling may be hurt. There is no doubt that Ryan has a great mind and a great pedigree for defense, but he has to prove that he can be a head coach in this league, something his father was never able to do. By the end of the game Jets fans should get an idea of Ryanís style, in particular his input on the offense.
This is a big game for both teams. The Jets consider themselves a playoff contender and so do the Texans. While itís way early to ever consider tiebreakers this is a game that could have playoff implications and you never want to have a head to head loss against a wildcard contender. Neither team wants to start 0-1. An 0-1 start for Houston, especially at home, would bring back bad memories of seasons past. The Jets likely need to go 2-2 over their first four to contend, and on paper this is the easiest game of the first four.
The winner of the game will likely be the team that is able to contain their nerves at the start of the game and play crisp football. If the Jets come right out and set the pace and physical nature of the game it will take the crowd out of it and put the Texans in a position of playing catchup. If the Texans march right down the field and the Jets go three and out it might be a tough day for New York. The last thing you want to see is a rookie QB, who has never even sniffed four quarters of NFL football, being put in a position where he has to make plays in the last 10 minutes of the game to have a chance.
On offense the Jets are going to have to control the clock. With the suspensions impairing the depth on defense, conditioning is going to be a major issue. Week 1 is usually the game where the players show the worst conditioning once they head into the fourth quarter, especially on the road. Last season the Jets dominated Miami for three quarters and had to hang on in the fourth as they just ran out of gas. Itís only going to be worse this season with two key suspensions and the teams two best defenders, Jenkins and Revis, missing significant camp time because of injury. The Jets have to keep that clock moving on offense to allow the defense to sit on the bench and rest. With both teams a bit banged up its likely that the better conditioned team may be the winner.
The Jets should consider mixing some 43 defense in this week. With the two big suspensions and general depth concerns they are probably better using a 43 front at times. Gholston has looked better coming out of a three point stance than standing up, and the 43 would likely give Jenkins the chance to enhance the pass rush. Houston is probably going into the game looking to target their run game at Gholston, so hiding where he is might be smart. The Texans offensive strength is the right side of the line, and putting Gholston down as a 43 RDE would force them to run away from their strength if they really want to target him. The defense is going to be built on capitalizing on mistakes made by the opposition and they can not afford to drop an interception or not recover a fumble. There also has to be a conscious effort to avoid the penalties which were being called at an Oakland Raiders rate against New York this preseason.
The Jets did not catch a break by having to play in Houston, where the Texans are a very good team compiling a 12-4 record over the last two years. Even with that being the case, the Jets have a good chance in this game and nobody should be surprised if they win. If the Jets are going to win this game they will likely win the game by at least two scores. When Houston loses they usually lose big, having lost 10 games the last two years by more than a touchdown. If they let it stay close they likely will not have the firepower to match the Texans. The Jets defense probably isnít ready to contain a team like this and the suspensions are likely the main difference maker this week.
Jets 21 Texans 28