Monday night’s game against the New York Jets marks the 12th time that your Houston Texans will play on prime-time television.
The previous 11 games have gone as follows:
- ESPN’s Sunday Night Football on 09/08/2002: 19-10 win versus Dallas.
- ESPN's Sunday Night Football on 11/21/2004: 13-16 loss versus Green Bay.
- ESPN's Sunday Night Football on 10/16/2005: 10-42 loss at Seattle.
- ESPN's Sunday Night Football on 11/20/2005: 17-45 versus Kansas City.
- NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football on 12/13/2007: 31-13 win versus Denver.
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football on 12/01/2008: 30-17 win versus Jacksonville.
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football on 11/23/2009: 17-20 loss versus Tennessee.
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football on 11/1/2010: 17-30 loss at Indianapolis.
- NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football on 12/02/2010: 24-34 loss at Philadelphia.
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football on 12/13/2010: 28-34 overtime loss versus Baltimore.
- NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football on 12/22/2011: 16-19 loss at Indianapolis.
You will notice that the Texans, as pointed out earlier, have never won a prime-time game on the road and are on a five-game losing streak in prime-time games. As we are all well aware, the Houston Texans are 0-5 all-time against the Jets of New York and have never been 5-0 in their franchise’s brief history. There is a lot of bad historical juju to overcome here.
If ever there was year to change that, it would be this one. You know, the year where the undefeated Texans have won by an average of 17.5 points per game led by an extremely dominant J.J. Watt and precise Matt Schaub. Meanwhile in New Jersey, the Jets have sputtered to a 2-2 record while losing their best defensive (Darrelle Revis) and offensive (Santonio Holmes) weapons to injured reserve for the year.
All in all, this shapes up nicely for the Texans. Match-up wise, the Texans and Jets are on opposite ends of the statistical spectrum, similar to last week’s difference between Houston and Tennessee. Of course, with a quarter of the season done, we can now look to see where each team may focus their gameplan on. The following uses a lot of DVOA, so if you do not know what that means, take a moment to read this quick explanation or you can read this more thorough explanation.
The Houston running game has not been as strong early this season as it has been in recent memory, but your Texans sit fifth in Football Outsiders' rushing offense DVOA (7.0%). This is the new flavor of disappointment in Houston.
Curiously enough, the weakest spot in the run game occurs when Arian Foster and Ben Tate try to run behind big Duane Brown. The Texans are fourth-worst behind the left tackle with an average of 1.98 yards per carry. This may be because they simply have not run it to the left tackle as much, that roughly 13 carries with four negative plays cause it to skew so terribly bad, or because the backs bounce it out into the ‘left end’ area,’ but it is something that is worth pointing out since it is such a glaring weakness on the statistical end.
The Jets' defense offers an opportunity to get right here. Despite being a traditional 3-4, the Jets are 25th in rush defense DVOA (+2.2%). They are also the fourth-worst at defending runs behind the left tackle by giving up an astonishing 5.09 YPC. Putting a spotlight on that match-up should give us an idea if Brown has regressed, if the running backs are not doing their part, or if they are cutting it back into another direction.
New York sits 20th and 30th in defending runs at the right tackle and right end spot, respectively. With averages over four yards per carry there, I would imagine Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison will dial up more than his fair share of carries to the right. With no Revis to anchor the group or send safety help elsewhere, the New York pass defense, which is not helped at all by any pass rush, could be ripe for Schaub’s picking.
The big defensive match-up, aside from hoping New York chooses not to run at a weak Houston middle which is allowing a league second-worst of 4.75 YPC, will be putting pressure on New York quarterback Mark Sanchez.
The Jets have allowed six sacks, good for eighth-best in the NFL, and 12 quarterback hits. Compare that to Matt Schaub being hit 17 times already. In both losses, Sanchez was sacked and hit five times each, which led to him completing 41% of his passes and turning the ball over twice. He still has not shown the ability to not let pressure faze him.
This is the NFL today, and it's why defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is so successful: making the quarterback throw earlier than he wants, move around, and keep his eyes on the front seven is the way to win. If not, then Sanchez will have time to throw and likely pick on the two lone weaknesses in the Houston pass defense.
Sunday's improvement aside, covering the second wide receiver has been a problem for Houston and Kareem Jackson, who is likely covering an opponent's second receiver almost exclusively. They sit 24th in DVOA against number two receivers (27.7%) and allow an average of 74.4 yards per game. The Houston defense also sits 24th in defending running backs (14.2% DVOA) with an average of 39.2 YPG. Again, the pass rush can help mask these deficiencies, but hyper-aggressive Bulls on Parade can be susceptible to draw plays up the middle and screen passes to the outside. This falls on the linebackers to read the plays and get to the action. Yes, Bradie James, get to the action because your last game was awful.
On the whole, I think this is a game that'll be determined by how one generates pressure. Rex Ryan has struggled to generate a consistent pass rush in New York, despite having a man who can cover half the field on his own. I know Rex can design some genius blitzes, but losing Revis is a big negative. No pass rush means Matt Schaub, who already has a solid line to protect him, can find Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, and James Casey, especially with the Jets defense needing to worry about the run, too.
Wade Phillips has always put a premium on getting to the quarterback. He has shown that he is not afraid to blitz a safety or inside linebacker, but he really has not needed to – not when Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt can get pressure nearly at will. Since Houston is so effective with a four-man rush, this can lead to some complex coverages for quarterbacks to decipher, if they have the time.
Ultimately, I see this as the difference in Monday's game. The Texans have too much offense for New York to handle, while the Jets simply cannot put the heat on Schaub. With this sort of blueprint to success, I see Houston having quite the coming-out party on Monday night.
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