Coming into the season, we knew that both the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans would present tough challenges at home for the New York Jets. No one could have had known what the trajectory of the Jets season would be at this point, though.
There were few, if any, bright spots in their 34-0 loss to the 49ers, and even those were swallowed in a sea of darkness cast by their offense as a whole, their lack of a pass rush and their inability to stop the run.
Without those ingredients, it will be hard to beat anyone, much less a juggernaut like the undefeated Texans. That being said, it's not impossible.
So here's a game plan for how they can get it done.
Take Some Deep Shots
This is going to be more difficult than it sounds for two reasons: the Texans' pass rush and the Jets' lack of respectable downfield threats.
Regardless, the Jets need to create some big plays. They cannot play too conservatively early on. The Texans will likely be in press coverage early, forcing the Jets wide receivers to earn their respect by getting off a jam. Getting a big play or two early would be huge for the Jets.
The Texans have given up some big plays through the air this year as well. They are one of just four teams not to give up a pass play of 40 or more yards, but they have given up 14 plays of 20 or more yards (via NFL.com).
Half of those plays were achieved by the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning, and even a good deal of those were when the game was well out of range, so it's not necessarily easy peasy deep play squeezy. But it's worth a shot.
A look back at those plays reveals many of them to be of the short variety, where the receiver took it for a long gain after the catch, but the tape reveals the Texans aren't perfect against deep balls.
Take this play in the first quarter against the Broncos, for instance, where the Texans led just 7-5. The Broncos came out with the 12 personnel grouping—one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers—with running back Willis McGahee lined up behind Manning.
The Texans came out in their base 3-4 personnel grouping.
They are originally lined up with both wide receivers on the left side of the offense, but Manning sends wide receiver Eric Decker in motion across the formation prior to the snap. This exposes the man coverage, with cornerback Kareem Jackson following him across the field.
The play-action to McGahee caused safety Danieal Manning to come forward in anticipation of the run, but he neglected his deep responsibility, allowing Decker to fly right past him and into a huge window in the defense.
If Manning had delivered a slightly more accurate ball—one Decker didn't have to lay out for—this 36-yard pickup could have easily been an 80-yard touchdown.
Sure, the Jets have track stars like Clyde Gates, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley, but until those guys are able to win physical matchups, the Texans have no reason to give them any room to breathe underneath.
If they're able to get a big play, it will force the Texans cornerbacks to back off the line of scrimmage, which will open things up for the underneath passing game—a strong suit for the Jets—and in the running game.
Gap discipline? What's that? The Jets may have forgotten; the last time they showed any semblance of it was at least three weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It certainly looks nothing like what we saw against the 49ers.
One time after another, the Jets just got owned at point of attack, took bad angles at the running backs and ultimately gave up big lanes that made it easy for the 49ers to pick up five or six yards anytime they touched the ball.
Like this example, where the defensive line gets moved way too easily, allowing the offensive linemen to get to the second level of the defense and pave the way for 49ers running back Frank Gore to pick up 11 yards.
Now, one might look at the stat sheet and assume that the Texans running game is struggling, but they've been more effective than in years past, writes Bleacher Report AFC South lead writer Nate Dunlevy:
[When] it comes to run-game inefficiency, it's not unusual for Foster to have rough spots. The Texans love to run in expected run situations. They've been sitting on big leads and have spent most of the fourth quarters of games grinding clock.
In other words, if the issue is the effectiveness of the Texans run game with Foster, it's more effective in 2012 than it was 2011.
The problem is, even when the Jets expect the run, they still have a hard time stopping it. In the example above, there were five defenders at the line of scrimmage, yet the 49ers dictated the trench to where they opened up the precise hole they wanted at multiple levels of the defense.
The Jets will have to be much stronger at the point of attack on the defensive line, and much more sound in gap discipline at the second level.
Their linebackers aren't very fast, as was exposed last week and has been exposed previously, so their best bet is to make sure David Harris and Bart Scott can move freely to make the plays before what could be a three-yard gain becomes an easy six-yard pickup.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.