8:30 PM ET, October 8, 2012
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
It's all going according to plan for the Houston Texans, who are enjoying the best start in team history but still see room for improvement.
The New York Jets will be hard pressed to make themselves better without their top playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Playing their first game in prime time this season, the Texans try to remain unbeaten Monday night against the Jets, whose much-maligned offense faces more scrutiny after learning receiver Santonio Holmes is out for the season.
The Texans (4-0) already are comfortably atop the AFC South since all of their division rivals have one win apiece. Unlike past years when it over-relied on quarterback Matt Schaub and the offense, Houston appears to have found a proper balance -- it's averaging 31.5 points while leading the AFC in scoring defense at 14.0 per game, total defense (273.0 yards a contest) and passing yards allowed (182.8).
That balance was on display in a 38-14 win over Tennessee on Sunday. Schaub was efficient -- going 20 of 28 for 202 yards and two touchdowns -- and Arian Foster added 86 rushing yards and a score. Danieal Manning and Kareem Jackson returned interceptions for TDs.
Coach Gary Kubiak is pleased with how the two groups have been simpatico -- the Texans' plus-7 turnover margin ranks second in the conference, and the nine turnovers forced have led to 41 points.
"They're feeding off each other," Kubiak said. "They're playing very hard. The best thing we've done as a team is we've protected the ball and taken it away. Those two things together win games in this league."
J.J. Watt has led the defensive charge, becoming the first player in team history to record a sack in four consecutive games. He has an NFL-leading 7 1/2 overall, eclipsing his rookie total of 5 1/2 in 2011.
The end thinks his best is yet to come as he makes adjustments from game to game.
"When I watch the film, there are a lot of things I can correct and a lot of things that I watch and want to improve on every single game," said Watt, who also has batted down five passes. "I'm just working on improving little things every week, so hopefully by the end of the year I'm playing my best football yet ... I'm obviously not going to sit here and tell you that I'm not having fun and playing good ball because I know that, but I'd be lying if I said I was playing my best ball."
The Texans will have to make one change defensively with safety Quintin Demps out following surgery on his broken left forearm. On Wednesday they signed Troy Nolan, who was released by Miami on Sept. 25 but is familiar with Houston's defensive schemes after being on the team the previous two seasons.
Foster, whose 103 carries lead the league, may face an even heavier workload since Ben Tate is dealing with a toe injury. Second in the AFC with 380 rushing yards, Foster had 143 total yards and two touchdowns in his only game against the Jets in 2010.
While the Texans are rolling, the Jets (2-2) are sputtering despite being tied atop the AFC East. They began life without All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis by losing 34-0 at home to San Francisco last Sunday.
An offense that was completely stymied took a huge hit Wednesday when the Jets learned Holmes' Lisfranc foot injury would require season-ending surgery.
"Obviously, that's a big loss for us," coach Rex Ryan said. "Santonio's one of the top receivers in the game, and it is a big loss."
The absence of Holmes, who has team highs of 20 catches and 272 yards, just adds to the pressure facing embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez. He threw for 103 yards Sunday and has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in three consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Sanchez's uneven play since New York's season-opening win over Buffalo has allowed speculation to run rampant as to whether Tim Tebow will see more snaps under center. Tebow completed a 9-yard pass last week, but Ryan remained committed to Sanchez.
"I just know in my heart, right now, that this is not the time," Ryan said about switching quarterbacks. "I think Tim is an outstanding player, and I think Mark is. Right now, I think Mark gives us our best opportunity to win."
It appears tight end Dustin Keller could miss a fourth straight game with a hamstring injury, as he's listed as doubtful along with rookie receiver Stephen Hill (hamstring). New York's receiving corps is clearly stretched thin, with second-year pro Jeremy Kerley now the top option.
The team signed Jason Hill, who had 25 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns with Jacksonville last year, on Wednesday.
Sanchez did have one of his best career games in a 30-27 victory over the Texans in the most recent meeting in 2010, throwing for 315 yards and the winning touchdown to Holmes with 15 seconds left.
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After watching film of both teams, Scouts Inc. breaks down key elements of the Week 5 Texans-Jets matchup.
• Jets must stop the run: This has been a poor run defense all season, but the Jets reached an all-time low versus the 49ers, who gouged New York for 245 rushing yards in Week 4. The Jets cannot hold up at the point of attack, they don't show consistent gap discipline and they overrun plays, which could be a huge problem versus Houston's cutback run scheme. The Jets also get destroyed by offensive jumbo packages. They are last in the NFL on third-down defense; when you can't get off the field, it tires out a unit that is already undermanned.
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New York Jets
|Avg Points Allowed||14.6||26.4|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||HOU|
|Rush Yds Allowed||HOU|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|NY Jets leads 5-1|
|Nov 21, 2010||HOU 27, @NYJ 30|
|Sep 13, 2009||HOU 7, NYJ 24|
|Nov 26, 2006||HOU 11, @NYJ 26|
|Dec 5, 2004||HOU 7, @NYJ 29|
|Oct 19, 2003||HOU 14, NYJ 19|
The Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow quarterback controversy doesn't exactly fall into the category of Joe Montana/Steve Young, Tom Brady/Drew Bledsoe, or Roger Staubach/Craig Morton. But there have been a few notable QB battles over the last 20 years that you might say are similar in terms of production - or lack thereof. We begin with... Rich Gannon vs Sean Salisbury - 1992 Minnesota Vikings. With the Vikings sitting at 8-3, first-year head coach Dennis Green replaced Gannon in favor of Salisbury. Gannon had this to say in a New York Times article back in July of this year - "They put in Sean Salisbury, who was no more capable of being a starting quarterback in the league than Dennis Green." Salisbury went 3-1 as a starter - tossing 2 TDs and 2 interceptions in those games. Gannon did make one other start that season - a loss to the 49ers. The Vikings would eventually fall to the Redskins in the NFC Wild Card game 24-7 as Salisbury went just 6-20 for 113 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Salisbury served primarily as a backup the next two seasons to Jim McMahon and Warren Moon. 1992 was, not surprisingly, Gannon's last season in Minnesota. Who could forget Cleveland's battle between Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde back in 1993 - besides all of us? With the Browns at 3-2, head coach Bill Belichick benched Kosar, who was in his 9th season with Cleveland. In came free agent acquisition Vinny Testaverde, who won his first two starts before getting injured. Belichick was then forced to turn the keys back over to Kosar the next game, which the Browns lost 29-14 to the Broncos despite a solid outing by him - 226 pass yards, 2 TDs, and no picks. Following that game, Kosar was surprisingly released. He'd sign with the Cowboys that season as a backup and win a Super Bowl ring. Testaverde actually missed three additional games after Kosar was released and didn't return until Week 12. Kosar's 1993 numbers with CLE: 57.2 Comp pct, 5 TD, 3 Int, 77.2 passer rating. Testaverde's numbers: 56.5 Comp pct, 14 TD, 9 Int, 85.7 passer rating. The Browns would miss the playoffs with a 7-9 record, but would make it to the Divisional Round the next season before losing to the Steelers, 29-9. Testaverde was with the Browns from 1993-95 and played two seasons with the Ravens when Cleveland moved to Baltimore - he served as the primary starter in all of those seasons following Kosar's release. To 1999 - Doug Flutie vs Rob Johnson. Flutie, like Tebow, was unique, but his numbers in 1999 were pedestrian - 19 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 211.4 passing yards per game, and a passer rating of 75.1. He did, however, lead the Bills to a 10-5 record. With a playoff spot wrapped up, head coach Wade Phillips opted to rest him for Buffalo's final game against Indianapolis. Backup Rob Johnson proceeded to go 24-32 for 287 yards, 2 TDs and threw no picks in a Bills 31-6 rout. Phillips, in a surprise move, named Johnson the starter for the Wild Card game. Johnson went 10-22 for 131 yards, failed to throw a touchdown pass and was sacked six times as the Titans won 22-16 (Music City Miracle). The QB controversy didn't end there. Johnson started 11 games the following season (2000) - the Bills went just 4-7 in those games. Flutie, meanwhile, posted a 4-1 record as a starter and threw 8 TDs and 3 just picks that year. He'd bolt for San Diego in the offseason. The Bills would go with Johnson again in 2001 - he went 1-7 as a starter in what was his last season in Buffalo. While the Flutie/Johnson controversy is the one that will be historically remembered from 1999 - there was another juicy one that season. Dan Marino vs. Damon Huard. Marino, in what was his 17th and last season in the NFL, was a shell of his former self. He did, however, have the Dolphins at 3-1 when he exited their fifth game of the year at the Patriots with a neck injury that would force him to miss the next five games. Enter backup Damon Huard - who led the Dolphins to a 4-1 record while Marino was out - giving them an 8-2 mark for the year (Huard's 1999 numbers: 57.9 Comp pct, 8 TD, 4 Int, 79.8 passer rating). Marino returned and struggled mightily over the final six games of the season, throwing 6 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as the Dolphins dropped five of those games and barely snuck into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson recently admitted he thought about benching Marino, saying this - "I had a Hall of Fame quarterback who could still throw but after so many surgeries couldn't move. Journeyman Damon Huard filled in during Dan Marino's last season and went 4-1 because our defense ranked fifth overall. In his last 14 starts, Dan was 6-8 with 25 turnovers, seven of which were returned for touchdowns. I never admitted this but benching Dan crossed my mind and out of respect for him, I never did." Johnson stuck it out with Marino, who came up big in a 20-17 Wild Card win at Seattle. Miami would fall to Jacksonville the following week in embarrassing fashion, 62-7. Marino retired, Johnson retired, and Damon Huard would spend just one more season in Miami - backing up Jay Fiedler. And we end with the 2002 Pittsburgh Steelers - Kordell Stewart vs Tommy Maddox. After five seasons out of the NFL and stops in the Arena Football League and XFL (2001 MVP), Maddox signed with the Steelers in 2001. He threw just nine passes that season as Kordell Stewart guided the Steelers to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship (lost to Patriots, 24-17). It was a different story in 2002. With the Steelers at 0-2 under Stewart and struggling in their third game against the Browns, head coach Bill Cowher inserted Maddox into the lineup. Maddox guided the Steelers to a 16-13 OT comeback win and in the process, won the job. Stewart, who was in his eighth season with the team, did start two more games in Weeks 12 and 13 when Maddox was out with injury - both of which the Steelers won. But Cowher went back to Maddox for the remainder of the season - he would go 7-3-1 in games he started while throwing 20 TDs and 16 Int's en route to winning comeback player of the year. The Steelers would win their Wild Card game 36-33 over the Browns - Maddox threw for 367 yards and 3 TDs while leading the Steelers to 22 fourth-quarter points. Pittsburgh, however, fell to Tennessee 34-31 the following week. Stewart moved on to the Bears the following season while Maddox and the Steelers went just 6-10. Ben Roethlisberger was then drafted and Maddox made just five starts after that, retiring following the 2005 season.
Mark Sanchez has under or overthrown a receiver 35 times this season, which accounts for 27.3 percent of his passing attempts. No quarterback has had a higher percentage of passes fall incomplete due to an off-target throw this season.
Matt Schaub has used a play fake on 31 percent of his passes since the start of last season, the second-highest rate in the NFL. Schaub has taken full advantage, averaging nearly 12 yards per attempt on play action passes.[+]
Matt Schaub Play Action Passing - Last 2 Seasons
The Texans are allowing just 6.0 yards per pass attempt this season, tied for fewest in the NFL. This has helped contribute to the team's league-best 12.5 Total QBR allowed.[+]
Lowest Total QBR Allowed - This Season
Mark Sanchez completed 75 percent of his passes thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage in Week 1, but has since completed just half of such attempts. No qualified quarterback has completed a lower percentage of their throws 10 yards downfield or less this season.[+]
With news that Santonio Holmes may be done for the season, that would leave the Jets very bare at the wide receiver position. The only other wideouts on their roster are Clyde Gates, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens. Holmes has far outproduced the other 4 combined in the NFL. Holmes has a 1,000-yard season on his resume -- neither of the other 4 have 1,000 yards in their career.[+]
WR on Jets Roster - NFL Careers
ESPN Stats & Information