It's all going according to plan for the Houston Texans, who are enjoying the best start in team history but still see room for improvement.
The New York Jets will be hard pressed to make themselves better without their top playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Playing their first game in prime time this season, the Texans try to remain unbeaten Monday night against the Jets, whose much-maligned offense faces more scrutiny after learning receiver Santonio Holmes is out for the season.
The Texans (4-0) already are comfortably atop the AFC South since all of their division rivals have one win apiece. Unlike past years when it over-relied on quarterback Matt Schaub and the offense, Houston appears to have found a proper balance - it's averaging 31.5 points while leading the AFC in scoring defense at 14.0 per game, total defense (273.0 yards a contest) and passing yards allowed (182.8).
That balance was on display in a 38-14 win over Tennessee on Sunday. Schaub was efficient - going 20 of 28 for 202 yards and two touchdowns - and Arian Foster added 86 rushing yards and a score. Danieal Manning and Kareem Jackson returned interceptions for TDs.
Coach Gary Kubiak is pleased with how the two groups have been simpatico - the Texans' plus-7 turnover margin ranks second in the conference, and the nine turnovers forced have led to 41 points.
''They're feeding off each other,'' Kubiak said. ''They're playing very hard. The best thing we've done as a team is we've protected the ball and taken it away. Those two things together win games in this league.''
J.J. Watt has led the defensive charge, becoming the first player in team history to record a sack in four consecutive games. He has an NFL-leading 7 1/2 overall, eclipsing his rookie total of 5 1/2 in 2011.
The end thinks his best is yet to come as he makes adjustments from game to game.
''When I watch the film, there are a lot of things I can correct and a lot of things that I watch and want to improve on every single game," said Watt, who also has batted down five passes. "I'm just working on improving little things every week, so hopefully by the end of the year I'm playing my best football yet ... I'm obviously not going to sit here and tell you that I'm not having fun and playing good ball because I know that, but I'd be lying if I said I was playing my best ball.''
The Texans will have to make one change defensively with safety Quintin Demps out following surgery on his broken left forearm. On Wednesday they signed Troy Nolan, who was released by Miami on Sept. 25 but is familiar with Houston's defensive schemes after being on the team the previous two seasons.
Foster, whose 103 carries lead the league, may face an even heavier workload since Ben Tate is dealing with a toe injury. Second in the AFC with 380 rushing yards, Foster had 143 total yards and two touchdowns in his only game against the Jets in 2010.
While the Texans are rolling, the Jets (2-2) are sputtering despite being tied atop the AFC East. They began life without All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis by losing 34-0 at home to San Francisco last Sunday.
An offense that was completely stymied took a huge hit Wednesday when the Jets learned Holmes' Lisfranc foot injury would require season-ending surgery.
''Obviously, that's a big loss for us,'' coach Rex Ryan said. ''Santonio's one of the top receivers in the game, and it is a big loss.''
The absence of Holmes, who has team highs of 20 catches and 272 yards, just adds to the pressure facing embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez. He threw for 103 yards Sunday and has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in three consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Sanchez's uneven play since New York's season-opening win over Buffalo has allowed speculation to run rampant as to whether Tim Tebow will see more snaps under center. Tebow completed a 9-yard pass last week, but Ryan remained committed to Sanchez.
''I just know in my heart, right now, that this is not the time,'' Ryan said about switching quarterbacks. ''I think Tim is an outstanding player, and I think Mark is. Right now, I think Mark gives us our best opportunity to win.''
It appears tight end Dustin Keller could miss a fourth straight game with a hamstring injury, as he's listed as doubtful along with rookie receiver Stephen Hill (hamstring). New York's receiving corps is clearly stretched thin, with second-year pro Jeremy Kerley now the top option.
The team signed Jason Hill, who had 25 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns with Jacksonville last year, on Wednesday.
Sanchez did have one of his best career games in a 30-27 victory over the Texans in the most recent meeting in 2010, throwing for 315 yards and the winning touchdown to Holmes with 15 seconds left.
- Santonio Holmes
- Houston Texans
- the Texans
- New York Jets