The NFL is full of interesting stories right now. From the Atlanta Falcons, who are 5-0 for the first time in franchise history, to the utterly shocking 4-1 Minnesota Vikings, to what five different rookie starting quarterbacks are doing this year, it would seem that an observant and balanced media would have its pick of narratives. However, the truth is obvious -- there's been an overabundance of coverage surrounding the New York Jets' relative debacles and failures on their way to a 2-2 record through their first four games.
There is so much talk about Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, and who wants who to start at quarterback when neither Sanchez nor Tebow seem especially qualified to do so, you'd think that the Jets are on their way to the Super Bowl. Truth is, they'd be lucky to bust a wild-card spot in 2012.
A more interesting and complete team resides in Houston, where the Texans have put up a perfect record of their own very much under the radar. One might contend that the Falcons or the San Francisco 49ers appear to be the most complete team in the NFL, but it's tough to argue against what the Texans are doing. A team that many had as the favorite to represent the AFC in last year's Super Bowl before quarterback Matt Schaub got hurt in the team's 10th regular-season game sure looks like the conference's best on both sides of the ball once again.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Texans ranked third in offense and second in defense in Football Outsiders' DVOA metrics -- only Houston and San Francisco have both units in the top five. Still, the main story this week when it came to Monday Night Football was whether the Jets (who rank 31st in offense and 19th in defense in those same metrics) would use more of Tebow in their anemic Wildcat package.
Never mind that the 49ers humiliated the Jets last week by running the option packages the Jets would clearly like to with far greater effectiveness; the takeout was clearly whether ZOMG THE JETS ARE GONNA USE MOAR TEBOW.
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who has finally transcended calls for his job, remains unconcerned. He knows what he has. And when he got the Tebow/Sanchez questions last Thursday during his press conference, he bypassed the fact that his own quarterback is more effective and efficient than Sanchez and Tebow combined.
"Yeah, we have to," Kubiak said, when asked whether he was preparing for a Tebow Wildcat "attack" that has produced very little to date. "This is very difficult to prepare for. You could face, obviously, the form of offense that they have run some with Tim and some of things Tim's done in the past. You got to go way back and look at all that. Obviously, Mark, he's played extremely well against us. It's double-duty from that standpoint. It's probably the most difficult team we've had to prepare for, really across the board. They do a lot defensively. Rex has got a ton of stuff [that he makes] you work on. Special teams-wise, they do a lot of formations. They're doing a lot of things with Tim, so a lot of issues for us to get ready to play from a rep standpoint."
It's more likely that the coaches sweating in the film room this week are the Jets' offensive minds -- they're trying to figure out how to deal with a rabid Houston defense that no opponent has been able to answer this season. Second-year defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has assembled perhaps the finest version of his multi-front, one-gap concepts of his long career, and with cornerback Darrelle Revis out for the year, the Jets certainly don't have any defender who can take over a game like Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Watching the All-22 of Watt's performance against the Tennessee Titans last week gave a crash course in what can happen when a single defender enforces his will on an opponent.
"Certainly everybody recognizes what he did," Phillips said on Friday of Watt, who bagged September's AFC Defensive Player of the Month award by becoming the first NFL defender since Kevin Greene in 1998 to amass at least 1.5 sacks in each of the first four games of a season. "It's good to get that recognition for him. He certainly had a tremendous month. I've had Reggie White and Bruce Smith and Elvin Bethea and Curley Culp, who may go in the Hall of Fame this year. I've been around a lot of good players, and I don't know that they had any better four games than what he's had, really six games. The last six games he's played have been that way. It's great to see him get that honor. He deserves it."
Houston deserves more praise and exposure, but they won't get it on Monday night. No doubt the guys in the booth -- and this isn't an indictment of ESPN, because everybody does it -- will focus on what the Jets aren't doing, even as the Texans are establishing dominance on both sides of the ball. But if you appreciate the game over the hype, the Texans are the team you should be watching this evening.
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