ReFo: Texans @ Jets, Week 5

Ben Stockwell | 2012/10/09

One of the few things that transpired as expected on Monday night was that the Texans won with the Jets coming up short. There was not the prescribed and widely predicted blowout by the clinical Texans against the sloppy Jets. Nor did Tim Tebow play a prominent part riding to the rescue to take the starting role from Mark Sanchez in front of a nationally televised audience with Tebow recording only 7 snaps for the second straight week and as Sanchez earned himself a stay of execution.

To give the game a sense of plausibility the Texans were still however the controlling force in the game and the running of Arian Foster ensured that Houston were never in any real danger of being upset as they sent their record to 5-0. Even the loss of Brian Cushing couldn’t derail a defensive performance that was once again led by the impressive J.J. Watt who added another three batted passes to his season total.

The pressure continues to mount on the Jets, their dominant Week 1 win over Buffalo long forgotten now, whilst the Texans return to Texas to try and put the reeling Packers even further onto the back foot. Here are some of the take home points from last night’s game.

Houston – Three Performances of Note

Watt was that about a sophomore slump?
Conventional wisdom is that second year players tend to suffer some struggles in their second season. Their opponents have “pro” tape on them and their divisional opponents have some experience of how to “deal” with them and their strongest plays. Well this week J.J. Watt (+6.7) again put in a performance to say that he doesn’t buy into that theory. After only five games this season Watt has already surpassed his rookie season grade (+32.3, including two playoff games) and is on course to record in excess of 25 sacks. Now we’re not saying that he’s going to maintain this pace, that would seem entirely unlikely, but his level of play to start the season is little short of astonishing. He is recording a stop on nearly one in five of the run plays that he is on the field for and he is recording pressure on one in seven pass rush snaps. Combine that with his freakish streak of pass disruptions (more on that later) and you have the most complete defensive player in the league at present. No surprise at all that Sam Monson declared him his AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September.

Strength to the left
The Texans got quality gains all across their offensive line thanks to their excellent use of double teams to control Jets’ defensive line and get Arian Foster (+0.8 running) into space against their subpar linebackers. However it was running to the left where the Texans got their biggest gain, springing a 46 yard rush off left guard late in the first quarter to immediately wrench momentum back after the Jets tied the game on a 27 yard score by Jeff Cumberland. The Texans went to the left on 21 of their 33 backfield carries and collected 5.3 yards per carry when running behind Chris Myers (+4.1 run block), Wade Smith and Duane Brown. Whilst the right side of the offensive line settles (Houston again rotated their starters) the left side of the line is carrying the weight of the expectation. For the season the Texans are gaining a full yard per carry more going to their left (4.6) as opposed to their right (3.6). When and if the right side of the offensive line starts to settle the Texans’ running game should really start to take off, and that is a scary prospect for the AFC’s other Super Bowl hopefuls if that does happen.

Who’s going to Cushing the blow?
“Torn ACL”.
Probably the most feared two word phrase amongst NFL players, fans and teams. It is almost always season ending and in spite of the ever increasing success rate of reconstructive surgeries it has the potential to derail careers. That is the fate that is feared to have befallen Brian Cushing last night at MetLife Stadium. Already putting together a spectacular game (+3.4 on his 19 snaps) Cushing has had his season potentially cut short and his loss would put massive pressure on the Texans’ linebacker corps. Already without DeMeco Ryans, traded before the start of the season, the Texans now have a group of journeymen to fill the void at inside linebacker. The two players likely to start in his absence, Bradie James and Tim Dobbins, are both traditionally run first players and will find it extremely difficult to replace Cushing in a defense that likes to go quickly to its dime defense. The Texans cannot hope to replace Cushing’s playmaking ability with either player but one of the two must improve their coverage to ensure that the middle of the Texans’ dime defense doesn’t become an easy area for teams to target moving forwards.

New York – Three Performances of Note

Lies, damn lies and statistics
On the surface of things this was another poor display by Mark Sanchez with the base stats paint a clear picture of his continuing struggles. A passer rating of only 54.5 and a completion percentage below 50% for the fourth straight week after all that promise he showed in Week 1. Well base stats don’t paint the full picture and Sanchez is very hard done by if you dig no further than this. For starters six of his passes weren’t “aimed”, with four of them being batted and on two occasions he was hit by a Texan defender rendering the pass incomplete. Add to that a tipped pass interception that turned a scoring drive for the Jets into a scoring drive for the Texans and a trio of dropped passes and you end up with a picture of Sanchez let down by those around him and simply coming up against an excellent defensive front. One of those three drops led to the Texans’ second interception as Sanchez was again faultless for a turnover. He did not light this game up but he did show that if the players around him did their jobs they can hang with any team in the league. The storyline of another poor game by Sanchez will ratchet up the pressure on him, but for this week at least such talk is unfair and unreasonable.

Not the balance they were aiming for
For the first two years of his career Sanchez was protected by a spectacular defense and running game that carried the Jets onwards, not asking much of the Jets’ young signal caller. Clearly this couldn’t continue and they wanted to make their offense and team more balanced, asking Sanchez to carry his fair share. Well they have achieved that balance but not in the manner that they would have hoped. Rather than Sanchez raising his game to the level of the rest of his team the wide performance of the Jets, especially on offense has sunk towards Sanchez leaving them in their current mire. That was brought into sharp contrast this Monday night as once again the Jets former powerhouse, their running game, failed to fire. The offensive line put in another lackluster performance with only Nick Mangold (+0.5) walking away with any sort of credit, putting in a solid display in spite of suffering an ankle injury. Collecting only three yards per carry, and their running backs collecting 72.7% of those few yards after contact, this game was symptomatic of the Jets’ struggles and highlighted the Jets’ need to reinvigorate this part of their offense.

Defense without identity
The Jets’ running game isn’t the only unit that is a shadow of its former self as it once again showed last night that it could hang with good teams but lacked any substance to shutdown the best teams in the league. Much like the Ravens’ defense on Sunday the Jets got off to a slow start on the ground allowing 112 yards to the Texans’ formidable running game in the first half before tightening their belts a little in the second half. The defensive line is still doing an OK job, with Mike Devito (+1.5) starring this week thanks to four stops in the ground game, but behind them David Harris and Bart Scott (-3.6 run defense) aren’t close to their best. This team no longer has the identity of a fearsome defense that will suffocate an opposing offense and it doesn’t have the same ability to make opportunistic plays as it once did. Without the ability to choke the life out of an opponent or to make big plays to take away momentum from an opponent the Jets D can do nothing but stem the bleeding unless they find a playmaker from somewhere, and that is not an easy thing to find in the middle of a season.

Game Notes

- The Jets have invested in their defensive line in recent seasons but the lack of investment at linebacker is starting to tell. Only Calvin Pace and Aaron Maybin rushed the passer more than ten times and Pace was the only edge rusher to record more than a solitary pressure.
- The Jets made a concerted effort to go deep this week and got their rewards, collecting four completions and 31.5 yards per completion on seven targets.
- After only five games Watt has already doubled his season total for batted pass from last season, his three this week gives him eight so far this season. This also marks the third time in Watt’s last nine games that he has batted three passes in a single game. Is this a new trend or just a purple patch? Watt didn’t get the first of his career until Week 12 last season.

PFF Game Ball

At his current pace J.J. Watt is headed for a simply obscene regular season grade in excess of the 100 mark. The level of play from Justin Smith was a sight to see in recent seasons but Watt is even putting some of those displays in the shade. How much longer can he keep up this astounding level of play?