Reporting Robert Henslee
1. Connor Barwin
Outside linebacker Connor Barwin is coming off a breakout 11.5 sack season in 2011. He’s still looking for his first sack of 2012. On Monday night, on the NFL’s biggest stage, Barwin will be looking to end the drought and show that his terrific 2011 season was no fluke.
The Texans coaches maintain Barwin is still playing at a high level, even if he hasn’t sacked a quarterback yet. But sacks are what outside linebackers get paid for. And with Barwin set to be a free agent after this season, he knows he needs to step up, starting Monday.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez can be rattled, particularly when trying to avoid the blitz. The Jets starting quarterback completed just one pass in five attempts when blitzed in the Jets 34-0 loss to the 49ers last week. The “Sanchize” will see even more blitzes from the Bulls on Parade. And if Barwin can finally breakthrough, it should pay big dividends for the Texans in the Meadowlands.
2. Kevin Walter
This might be the only time Kevin Walter is in the spotlight this season. But his role in Monday’s game shouldn’t be understated. With Darrelle Revis, the best cornerback in the NFL, out with a knee injury, Andre Johnson will be covered all night by Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie is no Revis, but he’s underrated as a cover man and deserves more recognition than he gets living in the long shadows of Revis Island.
That’s where Walter comes in. Don’t be surprised if Cromartie keeps Johnson in check all night. So if the Texans have to throw, it will have to be to other receivers. Kyle Wilson, who is usually a third cornerback, has been thrust into the starting lineup with Revis out for the season. Wilson is not ready for prime time. Look for the Texans to exploit that matchup with Walter or Keshawn Martin or Devier Posey, for that matter.
3. Chris Myers
The Jets have been ravaged by injuries this season. While Revis and Santonio Holmes have drawn the most attention, the Jets are also sorely missing Sione Po’uha, their 325-pound, run-stuffing nose tackle. With Po’uha out, the Texans will be looking to run the ball right down New York’s throats.
The Jets inside linebackers are bigger in name than in ability these days. Bart Scott and David Harris are far removed from the disruptive forces they were when Rex Ryan’s Jets came into Houston and stunned center Chris Myers and the Texans in the 2009 season opener. Three years later, Scott and Harris are just mediocre at best. With Myers leading the charge at the interior of the Jets defense, the Texans offensive line should clear big holes for Arian Foster and company, leading to a lopsided victory on Monday night.
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