Going into the game, I had two mindsets going into the game, before I make a prediction, I try to argue in my head between a rational NFL fan and the fanatical Jet fan that I am.
Rational me: A rookie quarterback in a hostile environment on the road against a team that probably has a top 5 offense in football? No chance. Even if the defense is good, the Texans offense is probably better, and without Ellis and Pace, how good can the defense really be?
Fanatical me: Sanchez is the real deal, the Jets will be able to run the football, and stop the run. Darrelle Revis can slow Andre Johnson, no Kevin Walter is a help, and if the Jets can score enough points, they match up pretty well and might be able to make some points.
What ended up happening? Everything I hoped for and more. Let's go down the list.
Mark Sanchez had a phenomenal game for his debut, going 18-31 for 272 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception . Most impressive was his performance on third down. The offense struggled early to pick up yards on first and second down, but Sanchez made play after play to move the chains and keep possession. The offensive line did a good job keeping him upright, and even when there was pressure, he was capable enough to elude it and make good throws on the move.
Sure, there were some rookie mistakes. He made a bad throw that ended up being intercepted and returned for a touchdown, negating what would have been a shutout by the Jets' defense. He made a few other passes that were either dangerous or nearly intercepted. But those are mistakes even veterans make sometimes, and he made more than enough good plays to make up for it.
Still Sanchez was not the most impressive part of Rex Ryan's new look Jets. Far from it. That honor belongs to the defense. I can't even single out a particular unit to impressive. They were in sync, flying after the football, hitting people hard, playing every bit the way Ryan said they would when he first took the job. Whether or not you believed him then, you better trust him now.
Yes, it was just one game. But this was the 3rd ranked offense in the NFL from 2008 playing in their home stadium opener when they have a significant home field advantage. And they were suffocated by this Jets defense. Matt Schaub was only sacked twice, but he was hurried constantly, and he never got in a rhythm.
The guy who was seemingly in the middle of it all was David Harris. He was involved in 10 tackles and sacked Schaub. He also delivered several bone-jarring hits that helped set the tone early and often. Trade him for Brandon Marshall? This guy may end up being considered a top five middle linebacker in football by the time the season is over if he keeps up this pace.
Darrelle Revis continued to live up to his billing as a shutdown cornerback, not allowing Andre Johnson to seriously get involved in the offense. Johnson ended up with just 4 catches for 35 yards. For a guy with 115 catches last season, that is a heck of a job. Johnson's teammate Kevin Walter didn't play in this game, so Revis was blanketed on Johnson virtually the entire game man coverage.
The defense was so stout that even Vernon Gholston looked like he belonged, at least a little bit. The Ghost had 3 tackles and had a decent game. In the stats department, he was upstaged by undrafted rookie Jamaal Westerman who had a sack.
The Texans got in the red zone once the entire game, and the play in which they arrived, Donald Strickland knocked the ball loose right to Mike DeVito, giving the Jets the ball back. Lito Sheppard later added an interception on a play in which Schaub was yet again under heavy pressure. All in all, it was a physically dominant performance by Gang Green, as they really kept the pressure off the Jets offense and allowed them to control the clock and the game.
And that's exactly what they did. Save the one interception, the Jets efficiently on offense. Thomas Jones had 107 yards (106 in the 2nd half) on 20 carries with a touchdown. He strugled early to find holes in the Texans defense, but as the game wore on, Jones got better. He had runs of 39 and 38 yards in the 2nd half to help ice the game. And for once, Leon Washington got the ball as much as he should have. Washington had 15 carries for 60 yards, 4 catches for 24 yards, 1 kick return for 20 yards, and 2 punt returns for 16 yards. And while we're talking runningbacks, let's not forget Tony Richardson's contribution, as the old fullback pancaked a safety on Jones's long touchdown run.
The passing game was shallow in terms of players catching the ball, but all four caught at least four balls. Washington's numbers are listed above. Chansi Stuckey was the recipient of Sanchez's first touchdown pass, and he caught 4 passes for 64 yards and made some nice plays after the catch. So did Dustin Keller, who also had 4 catches but for 90 yards. Jerricho Cotchery was the most frequent target with 6 catches for 90 yards. On third down, these guys made plays to get open and move the chains, especially Cotchery.