Jets-Texans: Ryan's Defense Smothers Houston as Sanchez Shakes Jitters

Angel Navedo@NamedAngelSenior Writer ISeptember 14, 2009

HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 13: Running back Steve Slaton #20 of the Houston Texans fumbles the ball as he is hit by cornerback Donald Strickland #27 of the New York Jets at Reliant Stadium on September 13, 2009 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Even those who fully subscribed to rookie coach Rex Ryan's optimism and bravado were taken by surprise.

Ryan and his New York Jets had to deliver on a lot of off-season lip service, or join the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, and Chicago Bears in the Monday morning funny papers.

But the Jets avoided any such criticism and made an emphatic statement to the NFL on Sunday, when they took the field at Reliant Stadium. Rex Ryan proved to be a man of his word.

Analysts and gamblers alike predicted gloom for Ryan's debut against Houston and their high-powered offense. Yet, from the opening kickoff, New York absolutely suffocated the heavily-favored Texans.

The Mad Scientist Didn't Lie

New York's variation of Baltimore's organized chaos didn't disappoint in their regular season debut. The Jets' new-look defense swarmed to the ball and took every opportunity to make contact with the Texans.

Linebacker David Harris built on his strong preseason, notching 11 tackles, slamming Schaub to the ground for a sack, and introducing himself to any ball carrier in his vicinity. The expectations fans had for Harris and linebacker Bart Scott to complement one another were met from the onset.

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Fans are already thinking of nicknames for the inside linebacking duo, with "Assault and Battery" being a personal favorite.

The Texans' offensive line was shredded by New York as the defense registered two sacks and eight hits on Schaub. Second-year running back Steve Slaton ran for more than 1,200 yards in 2008, but was limited to a paltry 17 yards on nine carries.

All-Pro nose tackle Kris Jenkins continued his dominant ways, swatting linemen away and swallowing anyone he could behind the line of scrimmage.

Third-year cornerback Darrelle Revis limited receiver Andre Johnson, the NFL's 2008 reception leader, to a modest four catches for 35 yards. And newly-acquired cornerback Lito Sheppard picked off Schaub on a desperation toss while under pressure.

It's the Little Things That Count

Offensively, all the attention rested upon rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, his 272 passing yards, and a second quarter touchdown strike to receiver Chansi Stuckey. But the fifth-overall draft pick proved his value in another way.

The fifth-overall draft pick displayed his intangible leadership quality in the first quarter after a scuffle broke out following kicker Jay Feely's field goal for the first points of the game. Fourth-year tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson was flagged on a personal foul triggering Sanchez to leave the sideline and lead his teammates away from the fracas.

The 22-year-old's footwork and pocket presence impressed everyone, but if there's anything that validates Ryan's decision to start Sanchez, it's that natural sense of responsibility for his team.

Jets' Alpha and Omega

While Rex Ryan stands at the center of his football team, it's evident he's entrusted offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to do what he sees fit. And after one week of play, the decision has the makings of a great one.

Presumably handcuffed under ex-coach Eric Mangini, it was Schottenheimer who had to re-establish himself as one of the NFL's emerging masterminds. Schottenheimer's willingness to experiment while never straying from a struggling rush attack spoke volumes of the Jets under Mangini.

The Jets were unafraid of showing the Texans an unorthodox formation, lining right tackle Damien Woody to the left of Ferguson.

Schottenheimer also debuted his own variation of the popular Wildcat formation, dubbed Seminole, in honor of running back Leon Washington and his Florida alma mater. But it's Schottenheimer's ability to remain steady that helped New York put the game away.

Running back Thomas Jones could not find any openings in the Texans defense for the first three quarters of play. But the game plan never strayed from the 10-year pro, allowing Jones to put the game away in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard touchdown run—his second of the day.

Perhaps Rex Ryan is a psychic, of sorts. Or maybe he's the confident coach New York needed to realize it's full potential.