Let's just call this Texans-Jets game on Saturday afternoon what it is — this is a game in which the Texans, ESPECIALLY off a loss to the Colts, should go up to New York and take care of things in a very business-like fashion against a rookie quarterback. This Jets team is bad, a 4-9 team with just a few players that would start on any of the average-to-good teams around the NFL.
On Monday, in his press conference, O'Brien tried to paint this game as a daunting challenge (which is his job, I get it), and in the process touched upon some of the things that could create issues for the 9-4 Texans:
“The Jets, I’ve been watching them now all morning, last night. I don’t care what anybody’s record is, that’s the thing. These guys – if you watch, let’s just say Jamal Adams. Jamal Adams, in my opinion, is just a great safety. I mean, he can run, he can hit, he can cover, he is all over the field. Leonard Williams up front, Sam Darnold, you let him escape, you let him start making plays, you’re going to be in a bind. You got to stop the run. So, it’s a big challenge, but I know our guys are excited for it and we’ve got to have a good week here.”
What O'Brien is not saying there is that there really aren't many other guys' names to rattle off as "scary" to the Texans. Again, this should be the Texans tenth win of the season, and the clinching of O'Brien's first double digit win season as Texans head coach. Let's look at a few things to watch for in this game:
4. Great white north
The trickiest part of this patch of schedule for the Texans — New York this Saturday, Philly next Sunday — isn't the East coast travel in back to back weeks. It's the East coast travel in DECEMBER in back to back weeks. O'Brien's answer to the weather question on Monday was one of his funnier ones of the year:
“We’re going to practice outside. Our weather right now is not like it is in New York or Philly, but it’s not great here right now, so I think that’s good. Then we’ll just do things during practice to kind of help show [Deshaun] what the elements might be like to the best of our ability.”
Wednesday's high temperature in Houston will be 70 degrees. Short of turning the Methodist bubble into a gigantic meat locker, you can't simulate Philly weather, Bill. Sorry.
3. Special teams
Texans' special teams have hovered around the top ten in Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings all season long, thanks largely to the hiring of special teams coach Brad Seely and a renewed focus from the new GM on bringing in "special teams guys," dudes who fit a special teams skill-set who take pride in running down and making hits. This is the rare matchup this season where the Texans don't get the check mark in the special teams matchup, as the Jets are number two in the league in that phase, and Andre Roberts is one of the most dangerous return men in the league, 4th in KOR average (27.1 yards) and 1st in PR average (15.3 yards). If the Jets are going to pull off the upset, they'll need "invisible yards" in the return game and via turnovers to do so.
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2. Non-Hop weapons
The Colts game was the first time since the Will Fuller injury where it really felt like the Texans were missing something downfield. A lot of that was probably because they couldn't run the ball, and were in second and double digit yards all day, but the Colts had success taking DeAndre Hopkins away and leaving things up to the rest of the Texans' pass catchers. The tight ends were super productive (11 catches on 11 targets), and that would be a nice trend to see continue, but clearly this offense needs a healthy Keke Coutee to open things up underneath. Other than Hopkins, they don't have anyone who can kill the opposition for single covering them. Coutee can, and they must have him back. Two cold weather games in a row with a wonky hammy isn't optimal, but whatever. It's time.
1. Rookie QB versus RAC
Strangely enough, I would be more concerned about this game if the Jets were starting their 90-year-old backup QB, Josh McCown. I think he gives them a better chance to win this game, and chip away at the Texans' secondary than rookie Sam Darnold does. That said, the Jets have to play Darnold. He's the future, and the future is here. However, much like Baker Mayfield a couple weeks ago, Romeo Crennel will have some confusing coverages for Darnold to read, and the rookie has looked shaky when asked to think this season. He's thrown 15 picks in ten games, and his 69.5 passer rating ranks 30th in the league. 17 points SHOULD win this game for the Texans.
SPREAD: Texans -6
PREDICTION: Texans 26, Jets 17
RECORD: 8-5 SU, 5-8 ATS
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.