Saturday, September 12, 2009

Jets vs Texans Preview


A look at the Texans
The Texans are a chic pick to make the playoffs this year as they have been for the past several. This season, however, they are poised to play meaningful games in January for the first time in their history because of runningback Steve Slaton.

Slaton gives Houston the first legitimate rusher since Domanick Davis (remember him?). He’s everything the Jets hope Leon Washington can be offensively: a speedy, shifty back with great hands who is tough enough to run decently between the tackles. Entering his second season, he’ll be asked to carry more of the load.

He’s such a dangerous weapon primarily because teams can’t load eight in the box to stop him or the passing game will kill them. Andre Johnson fits the prototype at receiver in that he’s a physical specimen in terms of size and speed and he also catches the football. Kevin Walter is an underrated number two receiver who has good size and is a thread in the redzone. Fortunately for the Jets, he’s currently dealing with a tender groin, and the receivers behind him are largely unproven. He should play, but he may be limited. Those two and Slaton would be enough to deal with in the passing game, but tight end Owen Daniels is also one of the best receivers in the NFL, and he’s especially good between the twenties. He’ll be a tough matchup for the Jets linebackers to cover.

Finally, there’s the quarterback, Matt Schaub. If he stays healthy for 16 games, which he has not done the past two seasons, the Texans should be a good enough team to make the playoffs. But Schaub played just 11 games the last two years, and he’s already dealing with an ankle injury suffered in the third preseason game (the one against Brett Favre and the Vikings). He threw for over 3000 yards last year in those 11 games, which would be right in line with some of the best passers in the NFL. He threw 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, too, and he loves to go down the field.

Of course, the one unit we haven’t talked about on Houston’s offense is the one that has historically held them back since their inception: the offensive line. Well, it’s better than it used to be by a long shot, and thanks to former Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, the run blocking is an effective zone blocking scheme. The pass blocking has some work to do to keep Schaub upright, but they return the same starting five as last year, and continuity is almost always a good thing for an offensive line.

Defensively, it’s a unit of a few stars but little supplemental help. New coordinator Frank Bush is hoping to improve a unit that allowed 4.5 yards per carry for opposing runningbacks and a 92 quarterback rating for opposing QB’s. DE Mario Williams and LB DeMeco Ryans are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and there are a few other talented young players in the front seven, but the secondary has a lot of question marks, and it remains to be seen how good several young complementary players can be.

The Texans received a ton of flak for drafting Williams over Reggie Bush and Vince Young, but he has clearly been the best player of the three. The 6-7, 291 pound physical specimen has 26 sacks in his last two seasons and is sure to be a major test right out of the gate for D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Amobi Okoye is entering his third year in the NFL, but at 22 years old, he is clearly on the rise. DelJuan Robinson and former Cardinal Antonio Smith will fill out the front four.

Ryans is a tackling machine at middle linebacker for the Texans, having tallied over 100 tackles in each of his three NFL seasons. He will be flanked by a couple of youngsters: rookie Brian Cushing and second-year player Xavier Adibi. Adibi missed nine games last year, and the additions of Cushing and Smith as well as the continued maturation of Williams, Ryans, and Okoye should help the Texans improve on their 23rd ranked run defense (4.5 yards per carry) from last season.

In the secondary the big name is franchise player Dunta Robinson. Unfortunately for Houston, Robinson’s dissatisfaction with being franchise tagged caused him to sit out almost all of training camp only to return on Monday. He’ll still probably start and play a lot, but he’ll have to shake off a lot of rust before he can be the shutdown cornerback he’s paid to be. The rest of the secondary is fairly mediocre, with Fred Bennett, Glover Quin, annd Antwaun Moldin rotating in at cornerback after Robinson. Former Patriot Eugene Wilson and Dominique Barber (Marion’s younger brother) man the safety positions, though former Jet Nick Ferguson should see time.

As far as specialists go, Kris Brown and Matt Turk are middle of the road. Brown is probably a above average kicker, while one-time Jet Matt Turk seemed to be on the downside of his career in 2002 when he averaged 34.9 net yards per punt with the Jets, but at 41 years old, he’s still around and kicking, literally. Andre Davis is a dangerous kick return man who will likely get to use his dangerous speed on offense more due to Walter’s injury.

Jets Pass Offense vs Texans Pass Defense

A lot of pressure will be on Mark Sanchez from the start. The early part of the schedule is incredibly difficult, and Sanchez has already coined week one a must-win. This defense can be susceptible to both yards and points, so if the Jets’ stellar offensive line can keep Sanchez upright and away from the grips of Mario Williams, he should be able to have a decent opening game.

The biggest question for the Texans is how ready is Dunta Robinson? The star cornerback is expected to start after less than a week of practice. Jerricho Cotchery might be able to take advantage of that. But the matchup the Jets will most look to exploit is Keller against rookie outside linebacker Brian Cushing. Cushing is a great athlete, but in his first game, Keller could be a difficult matchup. In fact this is one of the few games where the Jets’ receivers and Keller may have an advantage over a secondary. The question will be if Sanchez can deliver them the ball. My answer? Yes.
Advantage: Jets

Jets Run Offense vs Texans Run Defense
Even though I give the Jets the advantage (slightly) in the passing game, there’s no question that they will be a run-first team under Rex Ryan. Thomas Jones led the AFC in rushing last year, while Leon Washington is primed to receive more carries. Don’t look for Shonn Greene to make too much of a difference in this game, but Washington could have a field day in the open field both as a runner and as a pass catcher. Houston is athletic but young on defense, and good blocking combined with Washington’s big play ability could provide a long play or two from Washington. Jones has to be salivating at the Texans’ 4.5 yards per rush allowed last year. They made a few changes, but the Jets still are better in the trenches at running the ball, so they should be able to win this battle and move the chains when they have to.
Advantage: Jets

Texans Pass Offense vs Jets Pass Defense
If Matt Schaub can stay upright, he has all the weapons in the world. Andre Johnson may be the best receiver in the NFL. The matchup between him and Darrelle Revis is one to watch all game long, but if Revis is able to shut him down, Schaub still has other weapons to throw to. TE Owen Daniels is particularly worrisome for the Jets, as stopping the tight end has often been a Jet weakness. Daniels had 70 grabs for 862 yards last season. Bryan Thomas will have his hands full all game long with Houston’s athletic tight end. Lito Sheppard will probably be picked on as well, but if Kevin Walter does not play, Andre Davis, David Anderson, and Jacoby Jones are not nearly as dangerous as Walter, even though all have good speed.

If New York wants to win this game, they need to put all the pressure they can on Schaub and take advantage of turnovers. Schaub is prone to the occasional interception when hurried, and if he gets hit a few times early, the Jets might be able to get in his head a little. The lack of Calvin Pace and Shaun Ellis is going to no doubt hurt the Jets and make that task more difficult. Vernon Gholston is not ready to start against such a high powered offense, and the Mike DeVito/Sione Pouha combination might not either. The Jets will blitz a lot. Will they get there? That may be the most important matchup in the game. The Texans pass blocking is susceptible, but do the Jets have the pure pass rushers to get the sacks on time?
Advantage: Texans

Texans Run Offense vs Jets Run Offense
Steve Slaton gives the Texans a runningback the quality that they have never really had. As I mentioned earlier, he is everything the Jets hope Leon Washington can be in a more featured role. Slaton stayed healthy for 16 games last year, but RB Chris Brown should get goalline carries to try to keep Slaton fresh and healthy. The loss of Ellis and Pace really hurts again here, as both are good run stoppers and their replacements are much more unproven.

Look for Gholston to be tested early and often until he proves (or doesn’t prove) that he can hold up in run support and not fall for misdirections and counter plays. The Jets run defense was stellar last season largely due to Kris Jenkins. It should be just as good in 2009, but without Pace and Ellis, that severely hurts them stopping the outside runs, which Slaton loves. While most weeks, the Jets earn the advantage as a run stopping unit, they need to prove it to me first, especially without two starters in the front seven.
Advantage: Texans

Intangibles

Over the past two seasons, the Texans have had the second best homefield advantage in the NFL. The offense in particular is even more dominant at home, and on opening day, the crowd will be loud. The Jets will definitely want to try to start the Sanchez and Ryan eras off the right foot, while Houston hopes to avoid slow starts which have plagued them in recent years. If they truly want to be a playoff team, this is a game the Texans should win.
Advantage: Texans

If the Jets win…
…the defense has forced at least 3 turnovers. The Jets want to win with their defense first, but it will be hard to hold up with the Texans’ well-oiled machine. Turnovers will even the playing field and give the Jets the extra possessions (and field position) they will need to take the game.

If the Texans win…
…they stop the run and score early. If the Jets can’t run the ball, and Sanchez has to beat them through the air, which should be the Texans plan, it could be tough sledding. The secondary isn’t particularly good, but neither are the Jets receivers, so if the Texans jump out to an early lead and the Jets are forced to pass more early, the Texans might be able to take advantage of the rookie.

Prediction
If Ellis and Pace were playing, I might have a completely different view. But as is, the Texans’ offense at home with a healthy Schaub will be a very difficult group to stop. The Jets will score and keep it close enough, but in the end, there are just too many pitfalls for Gang Green to overcome to win this one.
Texans 27, Jets 21

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