FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan said he'd rather be playing Summit (N.J.) High School this week instead of the undefeated Texans. Unfortunately for Ryan, his son's school isn't on the Jets' schedule. The Texans (4-0) are one of the best teams in the NFL, and the Jets (2-2) played like the worst in last week's ugly loss to the 49ers.
This is a tremendous opportunity for the Jets to make a statement on a national, prime-time stage -- a chance to mock their naysayers and prove they still have plenty left after losing Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis. It won't be easy.
Kickoff is 8:30 Monday night on ESPN. What to watch for (with help from ESPN Stats & Information):
1. The QB drama. The pressure is on Mark Sanchez, who faces the top-ranked defense amid growing speculation that his job is in jeopardy. Sanchez is 2-0 against the Texans, but this will be the toughest test of them all. The Texans have an excellent third-down package (ranked No. 1) because they're able to pressure in a variety of ways. DE J.J. Watt (league-leading 7.5 sacks) is a big reason for that. Sanchez has to protect the ball because the Texans feed off turnovers. He must do a better job of setting his feet, even on short throws. He has completed a league-low 54.9 percent of his throws within 10 yards of the line. If Sanchez gets off to a slow start, he'll hear the chants for Tim Tebow.
2. Run the damn ball. The key to the game -- perhaps the key to the season -- is rediscovering a ground game that once scared opponents. The Texans can be vulnerable against the run; they're allowing 4.3 yards per carry. The Titans' Chris Johnson ran for 141 yards last week. The Jets don't have anyone the caliber of Johnson, but they can get to triple digits if the line does a better job of finishing its blocks. C Nick Mangold, coming off a rare off day, needs to step it up. The Jets are averaging only 2.94 yards per rush up the middle, 29th in the league. Tony Sparano has remained loyal to the slumping Shonn Greene as his No. 1 runner, but don't be surprised if Bilal Powell gets more work on early downs.
3. Defensive discipline. The Jets' beleaguered run defense was no match for the 49ers' gap scheme; now it has to deal with the Texans' zone running scheme. They like to use RB Arian Foster on outside stretch plays, and they do it better than anyone in the league. The Jets must remain disciplined, maintaining their gap integrity. If they get caught out of position, they'll get carved up on cutback runs. They also must tackle better. Last week was a joke -- 17 missed tackles, including a handful by LB David Harris and LB Bart Scott. The Jets are allowing 2.6 yards per rush after initial contact, the second-worst mark in the league. If they can't stop Foster, they'll get torched on play-action. QB Matt Schaub kills on play-action passes, averaging 12 yards per attempt.
4. Say, Watt? The Texans' big dog on defense is Watt, the early favorite for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He has a league-leading 7.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and five tipped passes in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. Watt usually lines up at left end in the base (over RT Austin Howard), switching to right end (over LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson) on passing downs. The Jets might have to double him at times; they can't let Watt wreck the game. Opponents have tried but failed; Watt has four straight multiple-sack games.
5. Punch 'em in the mouth: The Jets would never say this publicly, but they've always seen the Texans as a finesse team, a opponent they could push around. Ryan is 2-0 against the Texans, the Jets are 5-0. Considering their no-show performance last week, the Jets seem incapable of bullying anybody, but this will be a good test to see if they have as much fight left in them as Ryan claims. If they don't show up with a nasty 'tude, the Jets could get run out of the stadium. Schaub has won his last eight starts, with an average margin of victory of 20 points.