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Jets Defense Has a Dominating Day in Raining on C.J. Stroud & the Texans' Parade

D-Line Applies the Heat, DBs the Blanket Coverage As Houston Is Held to 135 Total Yards, 54 Net Passing Yards


Job one for the Jets defense in the steady rain at MetLife Stadium on Sunday was to mess with C.J. Stroud, Houston's supremely productive rookie quarterback. And perhaps head coach Robert Saleh, D-coordinator Jeff Ulbrich and the rest of the unit ripped a page out of the ZZ Top playbook, the one with the often shifting song title, "I'm Just Looking for Some Touch."

"Credit to Brick, his staff, the players," Saleh said following the defense's domination in the 30-6 win over Stroud and the Texans. "Whether he was a little bit off or not, who knows? But I thought our guys were outstanding up front, applying a lot of pressure. I think we had five sacks on the day, just applying pressure, getting him to the ground.

"Their line, they do a really good job protecting him very well. We felt if we could just touch him a few times it might change it. So credit to the defensive line getting after it a little bit."

Touch him and change it they did. The Jets sacked Stroud four times before he left in the fourth quarter for the visitors' blue sideline tent. The back end, meanwhile, didn't intercept the young gunslinger, but they did defend 10 of his passes. They also reined him in for 1-of-8 passing and two sacks on third and fourth downs.

One of the most impressive numbers from the day: Stroud, who entered the game leading the NFL with 3,540 passing yards, was held to 91 yards, his lowest number of the season.

"We don't try to do it intentionally. That's just what happens," CB Sauce Gardner said of recent weeks when the pass defense hadn't been as unforgiving as it was on soggy Sunday. "If you know people are dominating you and they're coming in talking about how they're going to dominate Sauce and D.J. [Reed] and the secondary, we want to step our game up. We want to play at the same level regardless of who it is."

DL Quinnen Williams, who rose up from all the double teams he's faced this season to get one of the four Stroud sacks and a couple of QB hits, thought the secondary might be underselling itself as he spread the praise around.

"We've got phenomenal DBs. Those guys in the back end are one of the best group of guys in the country. I think they're the No. 1 cornerback corps in the NFL," Williams said. "And as a D-line, we're just doing our job, executing to the best of our ability, trying to put pressure on him, get sacks on him because he's a phenomenal quarterback, man, a young quarterback who's doing elite stuff at a high level like a veteran."

Texans fans will point to a few missing planets in Stroud's orbit. Leading WR Nico Collins left the game early with an injury and didn't return. WR Noah Brown came in with a sore knee. TE Dalton Schultz missed a second game with a hamstring injury.

And although Stroud said before the game the rain wouldn't affect him, it seemed to take its toll on more missed connections than it did on Jets QB Zach Wilson, newly returned to the starting lineup and intent on having more fun than he's had in a while.

But then again, as Saleh said a few times during the Jets' now concluded five-game losing streak, "In the NFL, no one feels sorry for you." The Texans came in as the No. 6 overall offense in the NFL and the No. 2 passing defense, and the Jets defense leaned heavy on the team Houston put on the field to raise the kind of numbers they did at the Giants and last week, despite the loss, against the Falcons:

■ Houston was held to 135 total yards, the lowest by a Jets opponent since Miami gained 131 in 2010 and the 13th-lowest opponent yardage allowed in franchise history.

■ The Texans' 2.60 yards/play was the lowest by a Jets foe since Arizona managed 2.54 yards/play in 2012.

■ The visitors' 54 net passing yards were another memorable statistic — the lowest by an opponent since the "Win And We're In" Game 16 vs. Cincinnati in 2010, when the Bengals gained zero net yards in the Jets' postseason-clinching 27-0 win.

Gardner admitted the playoffs are not in the forefront of the Jets' thinking now that they've risen only to 5-8 with a date at Miami a week down the road. But Sauce did say he regretted a few missed opportunity from Sunday's surge.

"It does a little bit, I ain't going to lie. I definitely wanted that shutout," Gardner said of losing the shutout on the visitors' drive to their lone score at 0:00 in the third quarter. He also regretted not holding onto what would have been his first interception of the season: "I gotta be better."

One thing the Jets needed to be was a better complementary unit. And that was also on display in the win. Wilson and the Green & White offense held onto the ball for 37:05 — their best possession time in six seasons. They also converted five consecutive third downs in the second half and six of 15 overall. Such positive developments helped fuel the energy the defense felt as it returned not only to top-10 form but lights-out levels.

"I think that's got something to do with it," Williams said of the offensive and special teams contributions to this much needed victory. "When you see Zach out there, all the negative stuff he's been going through, all the small obstacles he's had to overcome ... when you see how hard he's fighting and the offense is fighting, it gives us some energy, it gives this whole team some energy.

"It s a big thing when you've got complementary football. You don't want to let your teammates down. You do all you can as a defense to do your job."

And not always but often, that's when an NFL team regains its winning touch.

See the best game action photos during Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

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