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NFL Preview - Houston (4-5) at N.Y. Jets (7-2)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Will the less injured quarterback please stand up? Or at least try to stand up?
As a matchup at the expensive palace known as New Meadowlands Stadium approaches, both New York Jets game-manager Mark Sanchez and Houston Texans gunslinger Matt Schaub are limping -- rather than galloping -- toward an anticipated duel of young AFC studs this Sunday.
Sanchez was held to limited participation in midweek practice while nursing a calf injury suffered during last week's dramatic overtime win at Cleveland, while Schaub actually spent a night at Methodist Hospital in Houston to get treatment of a bursa sac ailment in his right knee.
Still, both passers are expected to play Sunday, if not exactly at full speed.
Schaub posted his fifth 300-yard game of the season and 17th of his career with the Texans in last Sunday's 31-24 defeat at Jacksonville, which came on the final play of the game and extended Houston's losing streak to three, dropping the team two games behind first-place Indianapolis in the AFC South.
"Our standard as a team isn't being met right now, and that's all of us," said Houston head coach Gary Kubiak. "We've got to find a way to meet our standard in all three phases of the game.
"We're going to have to do a better job across the board. You're not going to beat anybody in this league if you're not playing well. The team that we're playing -- you've got no chance beating them if you're not playing well."
The Jets, on the other hand, have been winning games where they haven't played well, defeating Detroit in overtime two weeks ago before toppling ex-coach Eric Mangini and his aforementioned Browns last Sunday in Cleveland.
New York is 7-2 and atop the pack in the AFC East, but hasn't beaten a team by more than one score since a 29-20 win against Minnesota in Week 5.
To some, it's a sign the team does well in close situations. To others, it's a run of good luck.
Not surprisingly, Jets guard Damien Woody disagrees with the latter.
"It's hard to luck up and become 7-2," he said. "It just doesn't happen. I don't really care. We're 7-2. People are just throwing it out there. That's all cool, but check your facts first. Who really watched the game? Did you guys watch the same game that I was a part of, because if you did, you know nothing about football. I could bring the stat sheet and just show you. We dominated Cleveland."
The Jets have won all four of their all-time meetings with the Texans and handed Houston a 24-7 defeat at Reliant Stadium in the 2009 season opener, with Sanchez throwing for 272 yards and a touchdown in his official pro debut. The Texans have faced the Jets on the road twice previously, dropping a 29-7 decision in 2004 and a 26-11 verdict two years later.
Kubiak is 0-2 in his career against the Jets, while New York's Rex Ryan owns a 1-0 lifetime record against both Houston and Kubiak.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Even with a gimpy leg, Schaub will be flinging it. On the road in 2010, he has completed 98-of-151 (64.9 percent) of his throws for 1,204 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions and a 101.5 passer rating. But it's not all been via the pass for the Texans, who top the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns. Running back Arian Foster leads that charge and has 11 touchdowns on the ground in nine career starts, and he'll be aiming for a fifth consecutive game with a running score. Foster leads the NFL with 1,239 scrimmage yards (920 rushing, 319 receiving) and has scored 36 fourth-quarter points. Another established star, wideout Andre Johnson, has averaged 86 receiving yards per game in his past three against the Jets (258 total). He posted his fifth 100- yard game of 2010 last week and is second in the AFC and third in the NFL with an average of 97.6 receiving yards per game. Elsewhere, fellow receiver Kevin Walter scored his fourth touchdown of the season last week.
Love him or loathe him, Ryan has given the long-suffering Jets an identity with his chatter-filled defensive style. The 16.7 points allowed per week by his charges is third-best among the league's 32 teams, while the total yardage clip of 306.7 and the rushing yardage rate of 89.6 yards per game are both fifth-best. Foes have been a bit more successful with the ball in the air, gaining a weekly total of 217.1 passing yards, making the Jets the 14th-best team in the NFL in pass defense. Still, foes have completed a league-low 50.3 percent of their passes for 13 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 78.5 rating. Runners are gaining just 3.4 yards per carry and have scored just four times in nine games on New York. Former Miami standout Jason Taylor has melded well with the green-clad unit and needs 1 1/2 sacks to pass Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O'Neal for the league's eighth-best total in that category since 1982. Linebacker David Harris leads the team with 63 total tackles, while safety Jim Leonhard is tops with 50 solo stops. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie has two of New York's five interceptions, while Jason Taylor's four sacks are a tick better than end Shaun Ellis' 3 1/2.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Though he's impressed some and infuriated others along the way, a win on Sunday would give Sanchez a 16-9 mark through his first 25 starts as a Jet, which would tie him with Chad Pennington for the second-best record by a quarterback in franchise history through 25 games, trailing only Vinny Testaverde's 19-6 run from 1998-2000. New York is 6-0 this season when he has at least one touchdown pass. Behind him, in three career games with Houston, veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson has averaged 98.3 rushing yards per game. He played in his 150th career game last week and now has 17,345 scrimmage yards, the third-most of any player in his first 150 NFL games. Tomlinson leads all AFC running backs in 2010 with 36 receptions as well. Among the traditional air targets, wide receiver Braylon Edwards is averaging 17.7 yards per reception, while in the last two games, counterpart Santonio Holmes has racked up 190 receiving yards. Tight end Dustin Keller is second in the AFC and fourth in the league with 472 receiving yards from his position.
As good as Schaub and Co. have been on offense, their mates on defense have been that bad and worse while watching a 4-2 start devolve into a three-game losing streak and a solo spot in the cellar of the AFC South. The Texans' scoring defense (28.6 points per game) is second-to-last in the league, a spot the team also holds in total yards allowed (409.7 ypg). Opposing quarterbacks have accounted for 301.3 of those yards on a 68.6 completion rate and 22 touchdowns, while posting a ridiculous 110.2 passer rating. Only the Texans' run defense number of 108.3 yards per week allowed is passably respectable, moving the team to 15th in the league in that category. Among the individual culprits, safety Bernard Pollard leads the team with 75 tackles, including 55 solo stops. Defensive backs Tory Nolan and Kareem Jackson have two interceptions apiece, with cornerback Sherrick McManis notching Houston's other pick. Of the Texans' 14 overall sacks, former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams leads with 5 1/2.
Schaub, Johnson and Foster lead a Houston offense full of fantasy weapons. In fact, backup tight end Joel Dreessen and kicker Neil Rackers might be worth a look as well. For the Jets, the matchup with the Texans elevates Sanchez to a more-cherished status, along with Edwards, Holmes and Keller. Tomlinson and fellow running back Shonn Greene have evolved into a split role in the backfield, meaning less spotlight time for either. Jets' kicker Nick Folk has recently become a roll of the dice.
Some think they're lucky. Others label them as good. Returning home after consecutive OT road wins against sub-.500 opponents, the Jets will have a chance to prove which is more accurate. The matchup seems to favor the New York offense, so Sanchez should be able to spread the ball around to each member of his arsenal. Meanwhile, if Ryan's defense keeps at least a moderate lid on things, the home team looks stable for support in a high-scoring contest.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 31, Texans 20
11/18 15:00:05 ET