The Houston Texans head to the Meadowlands tonight to take on the New York Jets in a Monday-night game that looked a lot better when schedule-makers set it for prime time.
The Texans (4-0) look like the best team in football right now and are firing on all cylinders. As good as the offense has been behind Arian Foster and Matt Schaub, Wade Phillips' defense has been even better.
J.J. Watt is the early leader for Defensive Player of the Year honors, heading into the game with 7.5 sacks and more passes deflected (balls batted at the line) than many defensive backs.
Mark Sanchez isn't the only problem on the team, but he hasn't been helping matters, either. He's been among the worst passers in the league through the season's first quarter.
On defense, Darrelle Revis is (essentially) done for the year and there simply isn't enough talent to overcome his absence. Without another capable corner alongside Antonio Cromartie, good safety play or a capable pass rush, the Jets aren't stopping anyone anytime soon.
How will this Monday-night matchup play out?
Key Storyline No. 1: Will the Jets Unleash Tim Tebow?
Anything involving Tebow is going to get headlines, but this week's may end up being justified.
As I have said (and written), the Jets have been misusing Tebow from the onset. He's not Ronnie Brown in the Wildcat. He's not even Brad Smith. Tebow is more than that and has been more than that. If anything, the sporadic and errant use of Tebow has contributed to the Jets' offensive failings.
The Jets could learn a lot from how the 49ers have used Collin Kaepernick in the past few weeks. They could also learn a lot from watching tape on Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, who have run numerous option looks (both veer and zone read) to keep defenses on their heels.
It isn't rocket science and it really isn't even a matter of X's and O's. Instead, it's a matter of commitment. The Jets chose to bring Tebow in and make him a spectacle for their fans and the media (both local and national) to focus on.
Now they need to figure out how to use him alongside Sanchez before they're forced to use him instead of Sanchez.
Key Storyline No. 2: Are the Houston Texans the Best Team in Football?
Any talk of the Texans' success is going to bring Falcons, 49ers and Patriots fans out of the woodwork, and for good reason. In an NFL built around parity, it's somewhat disingenuous to talk about the "best" in Week 5.
Still, is anyone playing better than the Texans right now?
No matter what the play call, no matter who the opponent, the Texans seems to execute to perfection almost every time. The passes are perfectly timed. The blocks are as well-placed as they are impactful. The blitzes come from every angle and connect with ferocity.
If the Texans can walk onto the Jets' field and take them behind the proverbial woodshed, it will go a long way in solidifying Houston's spot at the top of the NFL pecking order.
Keys for the Houston Texans on Offense
Execution is everything.
It might sound simple, but this isn't a cop-out. Take a look at the Texans' offense and the Jets' defense. There is simply no reason the Texans shouldn't be able to line up and do whatever they want to score against the reeling Jets.
If the Texans lose on Monday night, it will be because they didn't come prepared or because they didn't take their opponent seriously.
Expect to see a balanced attack that keeps Rex Ryan's unit guessing. If there is one good thing to say about the Jets' defense right now, it is that it should be able to slow down even the Texans' attack if they get too one-dimensional early in the game.
Even then, if the Texans execute well, they should not have any problems.
Keys for the New York Jets on Offense
The Texans' entire game plan is to convince opponents to become one-dimensional. If the Jets fall into that trap, they're sunk. Instead, they have to come into the game with a 60-minute plan and not deviate if they're down early.
Still, the Texans' run defense is almost as dangerous as the pass rush, so the Jets will need a herculean effort. And if we're talking demigods, we have to include talk of Tebow.
Tebow isn't the only key to a Jets victory, but if his inclusion in the Jets' game plan is able to throw the Texans off their game, even temporarily, it could give the Jets the opening they need. If it loosens up the Texans' defense even a little bit for Sanchez, even better.
If the only net positive is that it gets the Jets some much-needed rushing yards, even that would be a minor victory.
Keys for the Houston Texans on Defense
To some extent, the Texans' game plan on defense (as mentioned above) is tied to their success on offense. If opponents are down and the Texans are controlling the clock, opposing offenses are forced to pass.
If J.J. Watt and the rest of that pass rush is allowed to pin their ears back, the game is over.
Early on, the Texans' biggest focus needs to be on, again, execution. The backfield has improved in 2012, but hasn't been perfect. A few missed assignments by guys like Danieal Manning or Kareem Jackson could let the Jets hang around.
Keys for the New York Jets on Defense
Rex Ryan used to be known for throwing the kitchen sink at offensive lines. While his schemes may never have had the precision or beauty of a well-designed Dick LeBeau zone blitz, Ryan could always confuse blocking schemes and quarterbacks with havoc up front.
We're not seeing a lot of havoc from the Jets' defense this season.
Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine need to have something special ready for the Texans this week, but ultimately, the onus has to be on the players.
Without consistent penetration from the defensive line and without effective pass-rushing on the outside, no scheme is going to work. Without Revis, Pettine will have to pick his spots when to leave Cromartie one-on-one with Andre Johnson and when to bracket coverage around the Texans' No. 1 receiver.
The Texans have too many weapons, though, for the Jets to "let" second and third options beat them. So, it all comes down to the pass rush. If the Jets (through scheme or effort) find a way to throw Schaub off his game, they can win.
Bold Prediction: The Jets' Defense Will Give up 400 Yards of Offense
Well, that could happen, but I don't think it will.
In the end, the Texans' offense is playing too well. As I said above, the Jets don't have the personnel to man up with the Texans' second and third options. Guys like Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter are set up for career days if the Jets decide to double Andre Johnson.
Of course, it isn't just the passing game that can put up big numbers. Arian Foster is one of the best backs in the league and is heading to New York to take on a Jets defense that gives up almost five yards per carry.
Bold Prediction: J.J. Watt Will Have at Least 3 Sacks
Don't expect the Texans to jump out immediately. Houston loves to wear opponents down until it finds the perfect time to strike. Sometimes, the strike is offensively, but sometimes, it's a well-timed blitz that fires up the defense.
Eventually, the Jets' offense will crumble and Watt is going to have numerous chances. Look for him to continue his trend of fantastic play against a line that can't hope to block him for an entire game.
Player of the Game Prediction: Matt Schaub
As good as Watt will be, the story of this game will be Schaub's ability to sit back and find open targets all day long. He's matured as a quarterback this season and has the weapons and protection to spread it around.
Final Score Prediction: Houston Texans 35 New York Jets 17
East Coast viewers may be able to hit the hay early tonight, as the Texans swarm and eventually overwhelm the Jets. The Texans will move forward chasing perfection, while the Jets face another week of intense media, fan and owner scrutiny.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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