Draw the curtains, and bust out the Jiffy Pop; it’s finally showtime for Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets.
Sanchez, fresh off of two impressive outings to close out the preseason, makes his first regular season start Sunday in Houston.
“I’m excited,” said Sanchez. “We need to attack a great defense and it’s gonna be a formidable challenge for us. We’re excited about the challenge.”
While flambéing second string and scout team defenders in the preseason is one thing, doing it against starters on an every-down basis when it really matters, is quite another.
The “Sanch-ize”, as he as been anointed by Jets’ supporters, faces a host of challenges from his first regular season opponent.
The Texans defense is anchored by the Pro Bowl duo of DE Mario Williams and LB DeMeco Ryans.
Ryans started all sixteen games for Houston in 2008, leading the team with 112 tackles. “Super Mario” Williams is one of the league’s most feared pass rushers, registering a combined 26 sacks over the past two seasons.
The former first-overall pick is without question salivating over the idea of imposing every square inch of his 6’6″, 290 pound “He-Man” frame on the rookie signal-caller, and turning the former Trojan’s NFL debut into a living nightmare.
“He’s a great player,” said Sanchez. “He’s one of those guys that can change the course of a game with his play. Hes physical, he attacks offenses, he busts up runs and he’s an amazing pass rusher. We need to keep a watchful eye on him and be smart when he comes free.”
“I’ve known him going back to college,” recalled RB Leon Washington who played against Williams while at Florida State. ” I played against him at NC State, I knew how special he was there.”
Head coach Rex Ryan also spoke highly of the star defensive end. “A guy like that comes out once every 20 years” said Ryan. “He’s a special guy, special athlete. He’s worked at his craft. He’s a tremendous player.”
“They’ve got a bunch of guys on that defense. DeMeco Ryans, Dunta Robinson is back. They’re a fast, physical, smart group, so they’ll be a challenge for us. We look forward to it.”
It is unknown how much playing time Texans CB Dunta Robinson will get in the team’s first game. The former first round pick, finally returned to practice Sunday, ending his camp-long holdout. Though Robinson most likely is not in top game shape, the less the Jets see of him, the better. Robinson, 100 percent or not, is the team’s most talented defensive back.
Despite the tall task at hand, S Kerry Rhodes is confident that Sanchez will step up to the plate. “He’s a cool customer,” said Rhodes. “I don’t think anything really phases him that much. The thing that he does well for a young guy is bounce back. When he makes a mistake or he has adversity, he backs it up and bounces back. So, I think he’ll be fine.”
Aside from the defense, the home field advantage of Houston poses another problem for Sanchez. Reliant Stadium has proven to be anything but hospitable to opposing teams over the past two seasons.
Since 2007, the Texans have posted a dominant 12-4 record on their home turf, which has been touted as the league’s loudest stadium. The 12-4 mark, is the third-best home record in the NFL over the past two seasons, inferior only to the Patriots and Steelers.
According to the Texans official web site, the team is sponsoring a stadium-wide “white out” for Sunday’s game, further adding to the tumultuous atmosphere.
Leon Washington offered a surefire remedy to counteract the raucous Reliant Stadium atmosphere. “I think the best way to answer the crowd noise is be successful early on offense and try and quiet them down,” said Washington.
Schaub returns to practice for Houston
Houston Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub returned to practice yesterday. Schaub, who has been receiving 24-7 treatment on a sprained ankle, will in all likelihood get the nod Sunday for Houston.
“He took a big step forward,” said Texans head coach Gary Kubiak. “He took half the reps in practice, so he’s progressing towards getting ready to go.”
With Schaub at the helm, the explosive Texans offense could spell trouble for the Jets defense.
Houston, which boasts the dynamic Andre Johnson at wideout and future Pro-Bowler Steve Slaton in the backfield, hopes to repeat their offensive success of 2008.
While CB Darrelle Revis admits the task of defending Johnson is a challenge, it’s one he fully embraces. “It’s a big challenge,” said Revis. “He’s one of the top receivers in the league. He’s a big guy, 6’3″, 230, he can do everything. He can run, hes very physical. I’m ready for it and I’m ready to go.”
In 2008, Houston ranked third in the NFL in total offense, registering 6113 yards on the season, an average of 382.1 yards per game.
The Schaub-led aerial attack also ranked fourth in the NFL in passing, averaging 266.7 yards per game through the air.
Beat the streak
The Jets are undefeated against the young Texans, winning all three of the contests between the teams since Houston’s inception into the league in 2002.
The teams’ last meeting was a particularly successful one for the Jets, as they cruised to an emphatic 26 – 11 victory over Houston in the Meadowlands on Nov. 26, 2006.
In that game, QB Chad Pennington put on a show, completing 24 of 31 passes for 286 yards and a touchdown. Current Jets Jerricho Cotchery and Kerry Rhodes also had standout games. Cotchery hauled in seven balls for 119 receiving yards, while Rhodes had a breakout game, registering 12 tackles and an interception.
As impressive as the Jets offense was that day, their defense was for lack of a better term, atrocious. Despite yielding only 11 points on the scoreboard, the Jets secondary was picked apart by then-Houston QB David Carr, who completed a record 39 passes that day.
Andre Johnson accounted for ten of those completions, something that cannot happen again this Sunday. Another porous secondary performance would spell disaster for the Jets against this Houston offense.
Sunday Sanchez will be reunited with his former USC teammate and roommate, Texans rookie LB Brian Cushing. Cushing, who the Texans drafted 15th overall in April’s draft, missed all of the preseason with a sprained knee. Despite his lack of reps, Cushing is expected to start Sunday.
Sanchez gushed about Cushing during Wednesday’s newsconference, calling him “a phenomenal player and even better friend.”
“He’s one of those guys on gameday. you just don’t want to get in his way, said Sanchez. “He’s a tough young man, and he’ll be coming full speed off the edge and that’s going to be fun, to play against him for real.”
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