While a lot of post game commentary and opinion regarding the New York Jets dismantling of the Houston Texans is focusing on Mark Sanchez, Thomas Jones and the Jets offense, one unit that deserves a large part of the credit would be the linebackers led by David Harris, Bart Scott, Vernon Gholston and Bryan Thomas. For Rex Ryan's 3-4 defense to work, excellent linebacker play is a must and even without linebacker Calvin Pace (serving a one-game suspension) the Jets linebackers shut down an explosive Houston Texans offense.
David Harris finished the game with six tackles, five assists and a sack. Bart Scott and Bryan Thomas contributed two tackles each and helped put perssure on Matt Schaub all day. Vernon Gholston got his first career start after a regrettable rookie campaign and finished with three tackles on the day while finally giving Jets fans a glimpse of the type of player he could be.
The Jets defense held the Texans offense to a pedestrian 183 yards of total offense. The Texans turned the ball over twice and made it into Jets territory only twice for the entire game, never making it past the Jets 35 yard line. The Texans were held to only eleven first downs for the game and their yards-per-play average was only 3.8 YPP for the game compared to the Jets 6.3 YPP. QB Matt Schaub never looked comfortable against the Jets swarming and attacking defense and he finished the game 18-33 and a paltry 166 yards. He threw no touchdowns and had one interception on the day.
"Whenever you've got a finesse offense you've got to punch them right in the mouth," said linebacker Bart Scott after the game. "That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to set the tone. I think we hit him the first three plays in the first series. Quarterbacks have that internal clock. You've got to get shots on him whether he gets the ball off or not. We call them body blows."
The Texans couldn't get going on offense because the game-plan for the Jets linebackers was to attack on first down and set up second and long situations. Last season the Texans averaged 6.5 yards-per-play on offense which means you can open up the playbook on second down because you only need 3.5 yards for the first down. On Sunday, the Jets held the Texans to only 4.0 yards-per-play on first down which makes for second and long situations that play right into the Jets pressure defense schemes.
Linebacker Bryan Thomas commented on the Jets linebackers setting an aggressive defensive tempo for the game.
"Well, that was our plan throughout the week. Coach Ryan and Mike Pettine wanted us to come out and be aggressive. They wanted us to attack, attack, attack. That was the key for us, to have an aggressive defense, and that was our minset comeing into this game."
The Jets linebackers were key to stopping Houston's two biggest offensive weapons, Steve Slaton and Andre Johnson. Slaton, the leading rusher in the AFC last season, was held to 17 yards on nine carries with one costly fumble and he never looked comfortable during the game.
Andre Johnson, who led the NFL with 115 receptions in 2008, was held to four catches for 35 yards and was another non-factor for the Texans. While the DB's should get credit for locking up Johnson, it's the linebackers and their pass rush that rattled Schaub causing him to under throw his receivers all day.
Safety Kerry Rhodes said after the game: "The more Schaub got hit the more he kept getting the ball out of there quicker. He's an accurate guy and his balls weren't accurate down the stretch because he got hit so much."
Head Coach Rex Ryan was asked about the tone that LB Bart Scott set for the defense and he was quite gushing in his praise
"I just thought our defense, it was the pride in the unit. I think everybody played well. You know, we did our job. We’ll see the tapes. It’s never as good as you think it is, it’s never as bad as you think it is. But I think our defense played like I though we would. This was an outstanding opponent we were up against, they were ranked third in the league last year. And they are one of the top offenses in the league at home. You know, we had some things stacked against us. We played without two guys, and like we expect, our next guy has got to step up and I think our guys did and I think we played pretty well."
While it's great to enjoy such a big opening road win for a team that collapsed late last season, dealt with the Brett Favre drama, brought in a first-year, first-time Head Coach in Rex Ryan and is starting a rookie quarterback in Sanchez, the real test will be how the Jets match up against their biggest rival, the New England Patriots, next week. Emotions would have already been high with the home crowd in the new stadium at a near fever pitch regardless of who the Jets opponent was but the Patriots coming to town just adds fuel to the fire.
Across the board, the Patriots are stronger than the Texans. Matt Schaub is no Tom Brady and the Patriots offensive line is one of the best in the NFL while the Texans have historically had one of the three worst performing offensive lines in the league. Additionally, Bill Belichick teams are used to playing against the 3-4 defense because of recent epic games against the Steelers and the Patriots defeated the Ravens and Rex Ryan's defense the last time they met in 2007, 27-24.
Jets fans should enjoy the victory but keep an eye on next week's game to see just how far Rex Ryan has brought this team. Hopefully Bart Scott and the rest of the linebackers will be ready to throw some more body blows.