Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jets limit Texans to 183 total yards in 24-7 win

The Jets made numerous moves in the offseason to bolster their defense, including hiring the ultra-aggressive Rex Ryan as their new head coach to replace Eric Mangini. They didn't have to wait very long to see the results of these additions as the Jets shut down one of the NFL's most potent offenses from a season ago, as the Texans were so inept at times they drew second-half boo's from the crowd at Reliant Stadium.

The Texans averaged 25.8 points per game at home last season, but couldn't muster an offensive touchdown against the new-look Jets defense. Running back Steve Slaton managed just 17 yards on nine carries, while quarterback Matt Schaub was under constant pressure all game as the Texans struggled to find any offensive rhythm.

New York's other big addition, rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, showed why he was the fifth overall pick in this year's draft. The Jets struggled to run the football early, but Sanchez was able to lead the offense through the air to eventually open up the running game.

Sanchez led the Jets on a 16-play, 68-yard drive in the first quarter that lasted 8:27 and culminated in a short Jay Feely field goal. Then with 3:27 left in the first half, Sanchez exploited a Texans blitz and hit a wide-open Chansi Stuckey in the middle of the field for a 30-yard touchdown, the first of his career, to end another impressive drive that spanned 10 plays and 78 yards and put New York up 10 heading into the locker room.

What was particularly impressive about Sanchez was his poise and mobility inside and outside of the pocket, as Mario Williams and the Texans' pass rush didn't register a sack on the rookie all day. Sanchez was able to sidestep numerous blitzes with his impressive footwork and only broke the pocket when absolutely necessary. This made him extremely effective on third down, when he went 12-for-15 for 189 yards and a touchdown.

Throw in Sanchez's ability to throw on the run and he looks like the real deal after just one week of play. He finished 18-for-31 for 272 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Sanchez will inevitably struggle like any rookie quarterback but few will deny this kid has a bright future, both as a quarterback and a leader.

It also helps when you have a solid running game to lean on and the Jets have just that, as they ran the ball 42 times for 190 yards. As a result, they dominated time of possession over Houston, controlling the ball for nearly 39 minutes. Thomas Jones was held to just 16 yards on his first 14 carries, but that included a one-yard touchdown plunge to put the Jets up 17-0 in the third quarter.

Jones would bust loose for a 39-yard run on his next carry later in the quarter and, after Sanchez threw an interception that was fumbled and recovered by the Texans for a touchdown, Jones sealed the victory with a 38-yard touchdown run with just over 10 minutes to play in the fourth. Jones finished with 107 yards on 20 carries, 91 of those coming on his final six carries.

There can't be a discussion on the Jets running game without mentioning the diminuitive Leon Washington, who carried 15 times for 60 yards and caught four passes for 24 yards. Washington played a major part in nearly every Jets drive, whether it was taking handcuffs, being a safety valve for Sanchez or successfully running the Wildcat on several occasions.

It's obvious the Jets will look to deploy Washington even more this season as he continues to provide a perfect compliment to the more powerful Jones, who turned 31 in August. Jones has less than 2,000 career carries in nine seasons, so there may still be a year or two left in the tank if Washington can keep him fresh. In comparison, another back many experts have predicted to slow down this season, 30-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson, has 2,657 carries in eight seasons, an average of over 330 carries per season, comparison to 220 or so per year for Jones.

I don't know what was more surprising, the Jets ability to keep Houston's offense off the field with time-consuming drives or their absolute dominance on defense. The Texans' trio of Schaub, Slaton and receiver Andre Johnson was completely shut down, as Johnson managed just four catches for 35 yards and was a non-factor until the game was out of reach.

Credit for that should go to All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who continues to solidify his place among the best corners in football in his fourth season. With Lito Sheppard making contributions on the opposite side of the field and Kerry Rhodes lurking at safety, the Jets held Schaub to an 18-for-33, 166-yard, one-interception game. That kind of pass defense will work well with a run defense that allowed just 38 yards on the ground without Calvin Pace and Shaun Ellis, two of their best run-stoppers.

The Jets will play their home opener next Sunday against New England, who will play Buffalo tomorrow night in their first game. That game will be a good early-season test for the Jets to show how good they can really be this season.

If they can come out and beat the pre-season AFC favorite with a rookie quarterback making just his second career start, it may not be too early to jump on the playoff bandwagon. Of course, Jets fans did that after Week 12 last season and it proved to be too early, so what do I know.

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