Jets beat writer picks Texans to win

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New York Daily News Jets beat writer Rich Cimini predicts a "rough go" for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.

Jets beat writer Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News spoke to Nick Scurfield of HoustonTexans.com about the Week 1 Texans-Jets matchup at Reliant Stadium. Cimini has been the Daily News Jets beat writer since 1996.

Click here to listen to a podcast of the interview.

Nick Scurfield: Let's start by talking about Mark Sanchez, the rookie quarterback. He didn't play a lot of games in college at USC. Sanchez has gotten high marks for his poise and maturity, but how do you think he'll be able to handle the hostile environment in Houston?
Rich Cimini:Well, that's the $50 million question, $50 million for his contract that he got from the Jets. But it's going to be a rough go for him. I mean, the one road game they had in the preseason that was telling was at Baltimore on Monday Night Football. He got off to a terrible start, just really struggled against that Baltimore defense, which makes a lot of quarterbacks look shaky. But the kid, he's resilient, he's got some poise, and I think if he can get through the first quarter without any major mistakes, I think he'll get his feet under him and get more confidence as the game goes along.

Nick Scurfield:How much do you expect the Jets plan to rely on their running game to try to take the pressure off of Sanchez?

Rich Cimini:A lot. It's going to be the blueprint not only this week but every week, and that's just smart football. They do have Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, two really good backs that complement each other well, and a veteran offensive line, all five starters back, kind of an unusual thing in the NFL nowadays to keep a unit intact. I know the Texans have their whole offense back, which is very unusual. So the Jets are really confident in their ability to run the ball, and they will do that to keep take some pressure off, keep him out of bad down-and-distance situations and, they're hoping, open some play action down the field.

Nick Scurfield:Sanchez and Brian Cushing were roommates at USC. Cushing has been talking about how much he's looking forward to getting to hit Sanchez. What has Sanchez been saying about playing against Cushing?

Rich Cimini:They lived together for about two years or so, and he was telling some funny anecdotes about that. He never really hit him before in practice at 'SC. I think Pete Carroll was always a believer there in having your first offense playing against your first defense, so I'm sure they did have a lot of good battles over the years but always with the red jersey on and never really being hit by Cushing. So no red jersey on Sunday, it'll be good. Cushing is an interesting guy himself. He really didn't play that much coming off the injury, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Jets go right at him and test him both in pass coverage and against the run.

Nick Scurfield:Let's talk about the Jets' defense a little bit. Rex Ryan had the "organized chaos" defense in Baltimore. In the early parts of the season, how much do you think this defense will resemble the Ravens' defense of years past?

Rich Cimini:Well, I think schematically, a lot, just because based on what they saw in the preseason. I really thought they'd take it slow in the preseason in being very vanilla with their fronts and their coverages, but the first game against St. Louis, they had all these exotic blitzes they were running. After the game, Marc Bulger said those were midseason blitzes that they saw from the Jets. So I think the Jets are going to come out and not hold back at all in terms of the different kind of games and pressures that they want to run. Now, I don't think they'll be as good as the Baltimore defense because they don't have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. But I think in terms of scheme, X's and O's, it'll be pretty similar.

Nick Scurfield:How important are the players that Ryan brought over from Baltimore (linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard and defensive end Marques Douglas) to bringing that Ravens mentality to the defense?

{QUOTE}Rich Cimini:Huge. If you notice, all three (of those guys), each one is at a different level of the defense – the line, linebackers and secondary. That was not an accident. They wanted to get "another coach on the field," somebody who knows the Ravens defense. The key guy's going to be Leonhard because he'll have the speaker in the helmet and he'll be getting the signals from the sidelines. Just a smart, smart player, and he'll be making all the defensive calls and the adjustments from his safety position. And really, that's the guy you want doing that. Because Bart Scott, he could do it, too, but Bart is such an animated guy who never shuts up, he's such a trash talker on the field, that I think they don't want to want him to let him have that responsibility. So that'll go to Leonhard, and he'll be a vital guy on the field on Sunday.

Nick Scurfield: Shaun Ellis and Calvin Pace, two big defensive players for the Jets, are out this game due to suspensions. How much is the Jets' defense going to feel the loss of those two players?

Rich Cimini:A lot. I mean, you're talking your two leading sackers from last season. Ellis is more of, like the players like to call him, more of a thumper, kind of a tough guy in the trenches. I think they'll miss Pace more because he's such a versatile guy. He's a strongside 'backer, he can do so many different things. He can rush from the edge. He can cover the tight end. He can drop into zone. He's their best edge rusher and they're not going to have him, and they're replacing him with Vernon Gholston, a high draft pick from last year who really had a very bad rookie year and has been getting a lot of time this preseason, but frankly, I don't think he's ready for full-time duty and I could see the Texans going right after him and running the ball at him because his football instincts are a little behind right now and he has trouble shedding blocks. So I could see them going right at him.

Nick Scurfield:The Jets' secondary has outstanding players across the board. How do you think they'll fare against the Texans' talented passing attack led by Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Matt Schaub?

Rich Cimini:Well, I think they'll put Darrelle Revis right on Johnson and have him watch him the whole day. Revis is one of the best corners in the league, made his first of many Pro Bowls last year. The Jets just think he's one of the top five corners in the league, so that's going to be a fascinating matchup. I don't know how they're going to cover Owen Daniels. Kerry Rhodesis a real good cover guy. I could see them put ting him on Daniels. The weak spot in the secondary is going to be Lito Sheppard, who has a real good resume, made a couple of Pro Bowls with the Eagles. Teams really attacked him in the preseason. The Jets claim that they were playing a lot more man coverage than they would during the regular season, so it's not really indicative of how good Sheppard is, so I suspect that the Texans will definitely test Sheppard. But it is an improved unit, and it all revolves around Darrelle Revis.

Nick Scurfield:We're going to wrap things up by putting you on the spot. What's your prediction for the game?

Rich Cimini:Let me preface it by saying I wasn't too good on my predictions last year, but I like the Texans in this game. If this game was up in New York, different story. The Texans, they've won 12 out of their last 16 home games. I think they have that continuity on offense we mentioned earlier, having all those starters back. I think their up-tempo offense is going to cause some problems for the Jets. The Jets like to do a lot of pre-snap adjustments on defense and call audibles and disguise things, and if the Texans are getting plays off within 15-20 seconds, even quicker than that in some cases, I think it'll curtail the Jets' ability to adjust. And then the other thing is the Mark Sanchez factor. It's tough for a rookie to start on the road in a hostile environment like that. I think it's going to be tough for that, so I do like the Texans in this game. I think it'll be a high-scoring game, so I do like Houston.

Click here to check out Cimini's work on his "The Jet Stream" blog on the Daily News' website, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/TheJetsStream.

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