Known as a run-oriented team, the Jets might have to incorporate a different strategy when they host the Houston Texans, who have the statistically worst pass defense in the league. The visiting unit is giving up over 300 yards through the air per game, and with weapons like wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, quarterback Mark Sanchez will be looking to be effective early on when 1 p.m. Sunday rolls around.
"That's important. Those first couple drives kind of set the tone for the game," Sanchez said. "It's about finishing those drives. It's been a real point of emphasis this week. We can't have penalties early in the game — that stuff hurts — and taking care of the football, obviously, all game."
At home, however, the at-times high-flying Jets have gotten off to stand-still starts. In Week 1 the offense struggled to put nine points on the scoreboard against the Baltimore Ravens and was shut out by the Packers on Halloween. The Jets may be 7-2, but they are 2-2 at home and many are clamoring for the Green & White to come out guns blazing. Holmes, however, sees the larger picture.
"Right now that's not even our focus," Holmes said. "The main thing is to just come out and play ball. I think the past two games we've been completing passes, we've been running the ball pretty well, and I think that's probably the biggest thing, to get both of those games and aspects of the game going early."
The idea of a balanced attack is on the minds of the entire offensive side of the ball. The Texans also allow about 100 yards a game on the ground and the Jets have one of the top five rushing attacks in the NFL. As a result, running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will be a major focus as well. Regardless, it's hard for the Jets not to think about taking advantage of the young Houston secondary.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't," Edwards said. "We know this. We're going to go in there and we're just going to try to let the game flow. Obviously, the pass is something we're going to study a lot and try to use against them, but we still have those two guys, those two workhorses back there in that backfield. We're going to do a little bit of both."
Sanchez has 1,991 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Edwards has 29 catches for 512 yards and five touchdowns, and in only five games, Holmes has 20 catches for 321 yards and in the win at Cleveland recorded his first touchdown grab as a Jet when he took an overtime reception 37 yards for a touchdown.
Unfortunately, that wide receiver duo might be without third amigo Jerricho Cotchery, who strained his groin before making "one of the gutsiest plays" that head coach Rex Ryan has ever seen.
After Cotchery went down, do-it-all Brad Smith moved in as the third wide receiver. The special teams ace said he is "available to do whatever the coaches ask" and would be "happy" if he's called upon to take on a larger role as a receiver.
Other options if Cotchery can't go would be to elevate wide receiver Patrick Turner from the practice squad or activate pass-catching tight end Jeff Cumberland. Turner was named practice squad player of the week last week, and Cumberland worked with the wide receivers at Wednesday's practice, a session in which Cotchery did not participate.
"If you know the concepts of the offense, then pretty much you know each position," Cumberland said of his temporary transition to receiver. "I'm just coming in and game-planning week by week, just knowing what to do, just keep on studying, and my physical skills will do the rest."
Regardless of whether Cotchery ultimately is on the field or not, the Jets offense is beginning to come into its own and play with more confidence. Tight end Dustin Keller has been Mark Sanchez's favorite option and leads the team with 62 targeted passes, which he's turned into 33 receptions for 472 yards and five touchdowns. The Purdue product is eager to face the inexperienced Texans D but also knows balance is key to coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's scheme.
"In both areas, in the pass and the run, I feel there are areas where we can take advantage," Keller said. "Obviously them having a young secondary is a good thing for us. Time will tell if we're going to attack them or not. As usual, we're going to stick to grounding and pounding and hopefully we can establish that early on and that just complements the passing game."