NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Houston Texans rolled through the first four weeks of the season, looking every bit like the class of the AFC.
They’ve also put the rest of the league on notice with their smothering defense and balanced, high-scoring offense.
The Jets? Well, that’s another story.
Rex Ryan’s banged-up bunch has struggled to score, lost its two best players to season-ending injuries, is coming off a 34-0 thrashing by San Francisco and have a potential quarterback controversy brewing with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.
So, with the Texans (4-0) heading to MetLife Stadium to play the befuddling Jets (2-2) on Monday night, it would appear to be a big-time mismatch.
“We’re going to fight like we’re the underdog,” a defiant Ryan said. “We’re going to swing, that’s for sure. We’re not going to just take it, I can tell you that much.”
Sanchez said he was “thrilled” with the Jets’ effort in practice.
“We have a lot of guys in here, a lot of good competitors,” said Sanchez. “If you’re a good competitor, you come back, you come back swinging, you come back fighting, and the only way to do that is have a great week of practice.”
The Texans don’t expect an easy night — especially since they’re 0-5 against the Jets, including 0-3 on the road.
“They’re a dang good team,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of the Jets. “They had a rough week last week. Everybody in this business goes through something like that. I expect them to bounce back and play very well. That’s what I’m telling my team — they’re going to bounce back and play well.
“The key is, how are we going to play? Are we going to continue to play the way we’re playing and do the things it takes to win? That’s why we stay focused on ourselves all the time.”
That approach has suited the Texans just fine. They are already off to their best start, and are looking for their second five-game winning streak in franchise history.
“So, the Houston Texans, watching this group right here, it looks like they have a lot of weaknesses on their team,” Ryan quipped. “Yeah, ‘Ryan slams Texans.’ That’ll be the headlines. That will be good.”
Ryan ran down a lengthy list of things that make the Texans an elite team, something everyone around the league is finding out for themselves. Going into Sunday’s games, Houston led the NFL in scoring defense, yards allowed and third-down efficiency, and the AFC in passing defense. The Texans also have not given up a lead this season, and have trailed for a combined 18 minutes, 52 seconds through four games.
“People are going to judge you by what they see,” defensive end J.J. Watt said of playing on Monday Night Football. “This is really the nation’s first chance to see what we’re about. I’m excited about that. I’m excited to show everybody what I’ve been working on, what our team’s been working on and it’s a chance for the Houston Texans to step up on a national stage.”
Watt has been the leader of the league’s most feared defense, registering 7½ sacks and being selected the AFC defensive player of the month for September. Throw in linebackers Brooks Reed, Brian Cushing and Bradie James, defensive end Antonio Smith and a secondary that includes Johnathan Joseph and the Jets’ offense could be in for a long night.
New York ranked 28th overall going into Sunday and its run-first approach has been mostly grounded this season, with the Jets averaging just 3.2 yards a carry. That has affected the passing game, of course, and Sanchez is off to a miserable start with a 69.6 quarterback rating. He’s also without Santonio Holmes, who’s out for the season with a foot injury.
It all doesn’t do much to quell the ever-growing number of fans and media who want to see more of Tebow on offense — and maybe even supplant Sanchez as the starter. So far, Tebow has been on the field for just 31 of the Jets’ 257 offensive snaps, hardly the spark Ryan told everyone he’d be.
“Whatever they ask you to do,” Tebow said, “I just try and do it with all my heart.”
Sanchez and Tebow have done their best to not add any fuel to the fire, complimenting each other all the time and insisting that they’re friends with a great relationship on and off the field. Still, Sanchez knows the criticism of him continues to grow.
“I really don’t worry about it,” Sanchez said.
The Texans do have to be concerned about both quarterbacks because they know this could be the week in which Tebow could play a significant role.
“If we do our job and we play our assignments and we execute, it doesn’t matter what we face,” Watt said. “That’s what makes our defense successful. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, and we execute. Obviously, you put Tebow in the game and you do a little bit more with the run and they run some wildcat plays, if we run and tackle, we’ll be fine.”
Especially when you have an offense like the Texans do, with Arian Foster already carrying the ball 103 times for 380 yards and four touchdowns. Backup Ben Tate also has 117 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and that production sets up an impressive passing game with Matt Schaub.
Tight end Owen Daniels has 19 catches and wide receiver Andre Johnson has 16, giving Schaub two reliable targets. The offense also won’t have to deal with facing star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was lost for the year two weeks ago with a torn knee ligament.
“I don’t know about (being) ‘easier,’” Schaub said. “He’s a great player, he’s one of the best in the business at what he does. But their scheme is really tough to beat, with the multiple looks and multiple fronts and coverages they play.”
Still, it’s rare to see a Ryan-led defense ranked toward the bottom of the league, especially when there were high hopes at the start of the season. But, it’s only Week 5, Ryan says, and a win against the Texans could turn things around — on offense and defense — in a hurry.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us,” Ryan said. “We have to find a way to keep scrapping and see what happens.”
What’s your prediction for Jets-Texans? Be heard in the comments below!
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