The 2012 Houston Texans are very much like the New York Jets of 2-3 seasons ago when their head coach Rex Ryan first arrived in town. Both versions of these teams are/were smash mouth football teams at their core, playing stifling defense while implementing a run-first oriented balanced attack on offense. The Jets have lost that identity while the Texans thrive with it. In fact, between last season and the first four games of this season, there is a strong argument that the Texans are a better version of those Jets that went to two straight AFC Championship games.
This week’s key matchup is a test between two units of the Texans and Jets, respectively, that have not quite lived up to their physical billing this season. Now, that could be any facet of the Jets, but for the Texans it’s their run game, specifically the O-line. So conversely, we’ll focus on the Jets’ front seven amid their numerous underachievers.
The Texans have yet to really take control of the line of scrimmage in the run game quite like they did in 2011. Integrating two new O-lineman is always a challenge, especially when the previous group of five was as cohesive a unit as the Texans O-line was last season. And it’s not as if the Texans aren’t racking up solid rushing stats, they are ninth in the NFL in rushing because hey, even if the line is struggling, it always helps to have two running backs like Arian Foster and Ben Tate. However, this is only a testament to the fact that the Texans aren’t going to shy away from running the football, even if they aren’t having tremendous success. The team is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry, good for 21st in the league and down from 4.5 YPC a year ago (ranked 8th in ’11). Despite their drop off, the Texans lead the NFL in rushing attempts, hence their overall yardage production.
To date, many others and myself have given the O-line a bit of a pass, citing a grace period for the group to mesh and pick up a rhythm. But with four games now under their belt, the production needs to pick up, especially at right guard where the coaching staff has been rotating Antoine Caldwell and rookie Ben Jones. It’s difficult to become a truly cohesive unit when one of the five pieces is continually changing. One of these two needs to separate themselves from the other and take command of the position. The Texans offense has been able to remain balanced thus far through four games, but if the O-line doesn’t begin to play better against more quality opponents, the team could become more one dimensional, removing the unpredictability factor from their offensive game plan by facing more second or third and longs.
In past seasons, this week’s game against the Jets’ defense would have been a tremendous test for the Texans’ O-line and run game in general. Now? The Jets rank second to last in stopping the opposing rushing attack, giving up almost five yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns through four games. The Jets’ once vaunted front seven has softened and become a glaring weakness for a team that now has many. With the injuries to CB Darrelle Revis and WR Santonio Holmes, the awful play of QB Mark Sanchez, and the Jets’ own inability to successfully run the football, the team needs its once dominant unit to step up and reassert themselves if they have any chance of taking down a Texans team that possesses huge advantages in most other areas of this game.
This week’s key matchup is the most interesting one on the field because it’s two formerly top-notch units looking to regain their prowess. The Jets are much further off than the Texans, but it is the one area in which the Jets could foreseeably take it to the Texans if they are to upset the road favorites. The Texans have largely excelled in most areas this season, but if they are to contend with the NFL’s elite and make a Super Bowl run, they need to get the run game going.
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