I still can't believe the Texans beat the Bengals last week. I really didn't want to get my heart roped back in. Monday Night Football was like a random text message from an old girlfriend. She still cares about me? Well, dammit, here we are. I'm back, and I'm scared.
The Texans are 4-5 and tied with the Colts for first place in the AFC South. Indy plays the Falcons and the Jaguars just beat the Titans on Thursday night. This week Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to his former scrounging grounds as he looks to pillage some old pizza crusts and throw a few touchdowns. Oh, and that Jets' defense is pretty good too.
1.) The Jets Shut Down the Run.
The New York Jets are built around their defensive line. They used the 6th overall pick in 2015 on defensive end Leonard Williams, a 2013 13th overall pick on defensive end Sheldon Richardson, a 2011 30th overall pick on defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, and signed 350 pound undrafted nose tackle Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison in 2012.
All four of these guys rotate around the first level of the Jets' 3-4 defense. Each of one of them are wide and quick run guzzlers. They are impossible to move backwards, and they do a great job reading and reacting to the ball carrier.
The results have shown that. The Jets are first in run defense DVOA of -31.6%. For context, second place is Jacksonville with a run defense DVOA of -25.5%. New York is first in the NFL in stuff percentage (30%) too, which measure runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage.
The Texans' offensive line did a great job pushing around the nasty Bengals' defensive line. They controlled the line of scrimmage the entire night. The production wasn't there on the ground because Jonathan Grimes, Alfred Blue, and Chris Polk are all below average. They can't make anyone miss. They can't run through tackles. They all have Zubat vision. For them to even get 3 yards a carry on the ground, the Texans are going to have to move the line of scrimmage. It's going to be a nearly impossible task against the monsters employed by the Jets.
2.) Revis Island
I'm not too big on receiver and cornerback play. Part of it is I don't know much about the nuances of it. I kind of just sit there and think, "Oh, he got open there". The other part is that all the action takes place off the screen, and you just get to see the end result once the ball is thrown.
But on Monday, when the All-22 comes out, I will be watching this matchup again. DeAndre Hopkins is the third best receiver in the NFL behind Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, and he's going up against one of the best corners in the league in Darrelle Revis. This matchup is going to not only be a joy to watch, but important for the end results of this game.
Besides Hopkins, the Texans don't have any receivers who can get open consistently. The Jets are 6th in the NFL at stopping a teams first receiver, first at stopping a team's second receiver, and 23rd against other receivers. For Houston to move the ball, it will probably need to come through the air. For them to move the ball through the air, it will need to come in DeAndre Hopkins's hands. This is going to be a tough battle for him, and it could very well sway the game.
3.) Todd Bowles' Defense
The head coach of the Jets was the defensive coordinator in Arizona before he came to Jersey last offseason. There, Todd Bowles was known for blitzing, and blitzing a lot to generate a pass rush. Last year, Arizona rushed 6+ defender 15.2% of the time (5th), rushed 5 defenders 29.4% of the time (7th), rushed 4 defenders only 47.4% (31st), and rushed 3 defenders 8% of the time (9th).
Like the Cardinals last season, the Jets use a lot of different looks. They'll rush defensive backs, they'll rush three and sit back in coverage, they'll loop, they'll stunt. They do a little bit of everything.
The problem with the Jets' blitz scheme is they haven't gotten to the quarterback as often as one would think. They are 16th in adjusted sack rate (6.3%) and have 21 sacks this year. On offense, Houston has an adjusted sack rate of 5.6% (14th) and have allowed 20 sacks.
With T.J. Yates starting at quarterback and only being on the Houston roster for the last two weeks, he will need plenty of time to make decisions. The Jets like to mix things up and blitz from everywhere. It's difficult to pick up blitzes, and even more so for Houston's starting offensive line since they have only played one week together. They did a great job coming off a bye picking up the Bengals' stunts and blitzes, and part of that may be because Ben Jones has played every offensive snap this year. I will just need to see more than one week of results to expect them to consistently pick up every rusher.
4.) Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets' Offense
I've come to the conclusion that Bill O'Brien traded Fitzpatrick to the Jets because he thought Ryan Mallett would start. Without an incumbent, it would be easier to start Mallett, and then O'Brien would have Brian Hoyer as a backup plan in case he was wrong.
We've all seen that play out, and now here we are. Fitzpatrick is playing well this season in New York and is coming back to Houston. He's still the same quarterback with gritty scrambles who leaves plays on the field, is inaccurate, but throughout it all he can do just enough to win games when the run game and defense is playing well.
The key to the Jets' offense, like the Texans last year, is the run game. They are tied for 5th in the NFL in rushing attempts with 265. Of those carries, Chris Ivory has 156 of them and has averaged 4.12 yards per carry. When looking at efficiency, Ivory is 27th in the league in DVOA and DYAR. He's one of those backs that just plunges into the line over and over again. He's not a speed guy. He's a plodding bruiser. Houston has had problems on defense against guys with speed, but not monster backs like Ivory. Houston should be able to limit Ivory on the ground.
The other component to the Jets' offense is their two primary receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Together they have accounted for almost half of the Jets' targets and more than half of their passing yards.
Besides these two, no one else from New York is a consistent target. Kerley is third on the team in targets with just 25. Their passing offense is entirely based on Marshall and Decker.
As for Houston, Kevin Johnson has started since Kareem Jackson went down with an ankle issue, and Johnathan Joseph is still playing on the other side. Johnson is superb. The only issues have been some small rookie mistakes like not turning for the football and grabbing a jersey when he doesn't need to that have led to penalties. I was wrong about J-Jo. He's slower, but he simply knows how to the play the game. He's been crafty this year and has evolved to make up for his lack of athleticism. These two covering the Jets' best receivers could decide this game.
Before the Jaguars-Titans game, the Football Outsiders' playoff odds and strength of schedule remaining was as followed:
Total Playoff Odds: Indianapolis--47.4%, Houston--30%, Jacksonville--20.3%, Tennessee--3.5%.
Remaining Strength of Schedule: Colts: -0.8% (31st), Texans: 0.8% (16th), Jaguars: -14.2% (32nd), Titans: 0.5% (17th).
The division is going to depend on how these teams play against the rest of the AFC South as the year goes on. For Houston, the rest of their schedule is Jets, Saints, @ Bills, Patriots, and then they get each one of the AFC South teams. These games aren't as important as the ones at the end of the year, but they can give Houston a buffer before they play Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
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