Entering this game, it was pretty obvious that the Jets were going to have to figure out a way to slow down J.J. Watt. That didn't go so well, as Watt racked up two sacks, five quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and led the Texans in total tackles.
However, they did figure out one way to slow him down, as they ran 26 plays in the fourth quarter and he had just one tackle (on a four yard run) and one quarterback hit. The Jets had run 37 plays in the other three quarters, during which he did the rest of that damage. He wasn't rested in the fourth, nor is he typically the type of player who will wear down over the course of the game. They were simply able to slow down his influence by upping the tempo and throwing more quick passes. That begs the question; why didn't they do that from the start?
Of course, what this does do is provide a nice blueprint for how those teams that can do this more efficiently than the Jets can approach their match-up with the Texans. You're never going to fully mitigate Watt's impact, but if you can slow him down by speeding yourselves up, I think that's an approach many teams will favor as the Texans continue to establish themselves as a team on the rise.
This is supposed to be the Jets' offensive line review, though, not the JJ Watt review, so we need to concern ourselves with how they handled him. Watt lined up on the left for most of the first half, so was matched up with Breno Giacomini and he pretty much made mincemeat out of him with several sacks, pressures and tackles in the backfield, even though Brian Winters and Kellen Davis were often helping out with double-teams. Giacomini was also called for holding on Watt once.
Oddly enough, despite the fact he was making hay on that side of the formation, the Texans opted to line Watt up on the right a lot in the second half and he gave D'Brickashaw Ferguson constant troubles too, driving him back to sack Ryan Fitzpatrick on one play. Ferguson, who didn't get the same kind of help Giacomini did, had held up well in the first half. However, after having struggled with Watt, he continued to struggle in the rest of the second half, even when no longer matched up with Watt.
The Jets' offensive gameplan was thrown into disarray when center Nick Mangold injured his right hand. This forced Wesley Johnson back into action. Mangold snaps the ball with his right hand, so he couldn't play. However, when Kevin Mawae broke his right hand in 2004, he taught himself to snap left-handed during the week and remained in the line-up with a club on his right hand. Could we see something similar from Mangold?
To his credit, Johnson didn't hold up too badly, although he did have one bad snap and a couple of plays where he couldn't sustain his block. There was a key short yardage play on third down where he allowed Vince Wilfork to leverage a double-team laterally to close the running lane up the middle. While the announcers rightly credited Watt with splitting his own double-team to make the tackle, that was only possible because the running back was forced to change course.
Where the Jets really lose out with Johnson in for Mangold is that Mangold can handle one-on-one assignments against just about anybody, enabling the guards to be re-deployed in helping out the tackles or able to get out to the second level. With Johnson in there, this is less feasible and played a big part in the lack of success in the running game. Even on the few successful runs the Jets did have, they tended to be because the runner made a good cut or broke a tackle to avoid someone who was able to get penetration or shed their block.
Winters gave up a couple of hits, including one where Watt made a spin move to get past him despite a Chris Ivory chip block. He didn't have many successful blocks in the running game either. In fact, not many players did - although Giacomini set the edge well a couple of times.
James Carpenter remains the team's most reliable offensive lineman, as has been the case in recent weeks. He had a few good run blocks, not many mistakes and only gave up a couple of pressures. I'm not sure he's good enough to get the running game going on his own though.
Next up…Each of the backs had their moments, but their disappointing overall output probably wasn't helped by Mangold's injury…