The Texans (7-5) hit the road for the first time since early November and will face the Jets (4-8) in East Rutherford, New Jersey. New York's lost the last five games, while Houston's won four of its last five. Here are five things to watch when the two teams kick off at Noon CT inside MetLife Stadium.
1) C.J.'s Day – Quarterback C.J. Stroud leads the NFL in passing yards, is second in fan votes for the Pro Bowl, and has captained the Texans to seven wins in 2023. He's on a roll and will face a New York defense that's third in the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed. Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh detailed the test Stroud presents for his club.
"He stands back there, he's big, he's strong, he's confident," Saleh said. "You could see him progressing and he plays fast, like I said, he plays confident. He's only going to get better. They put a lot on his shoulders. With regards to the pass game, I think they're way up there from a pass game standpoint, but he's an impressive young man."
That impressive young man, though, wants more. Stroud still thinks the Texans haven't put together a complete game as a team.
"Our focus is now, 'Let's play a four-quarter game,'" Stroud said. "We haven't played one yet. We've played either great in the first half or great in the second half and it's been switched. That's not good football. That's not championship-level football, so we've got to be better when it comes to that."
On top of the league-leading 3,540 passing yards, Stroud remains lethal on the deep strikes. On throws of 20 air yards or more, he's first in the NFL in completions (27), completion percentage (61.4), passing yards (938), touchdown/interception ratio (7-0) and passer rating (144.9).
2) Weapons deficit? – Stroud and the Texans lost wide receiver Tank Dell for the season with his leg injury, and tight end Dalton Schultz will be inactive this Sunday because of a hamstring injury. That duo has combined to catch 87 passes for 1,164 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik remains confident in the receivers room--Nico Collins, Noah Brown, Robert Woods, John Metchie, III and Xavier Hutchinson, among others--and explained how that group will compensate without Dell.
"They're all really good to elite in certain areas," Slowik said. "They all have special traits, and we try as much as we can to play to those skills and to those traits, and we want to take advantage of those."
Metchie and Hutchinson will most likely see an uptick in targets in the absence of Dell.
"We think both of those guys do some things very, very well, and we want to take advantage of that and put those guys in positions to do that," Slowik said.
Without Schultz, the Texans will likely lean a little more on tight end Brevin Jordan and perhaps fullback Andrew Beck.
3)Shine on, 'Sting – Derek Stingley, Jr. is the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week. The cornerback picked off two passes last Sunday and has four interceptions in his past three contests. He's turning heads, and reminding many of why he was the third overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
"He's playing with confidence, and he's showing up making plays," Texans Head Coach DeMeco Ryans said. "Stingley has been doing this. Everybody wants to talk about Stingley now – he's been this player. He gets interceptions, now everyone wants to ask questions and talk about Stingley. Stingley has been a consistent player for us from day one."
The Jets have an excellent corner of their own in Sauce Gardner, who was taken one pick after Stingley a year ago. Jets Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich is glad Gardner's a Jet. But at the same time, he offered some more insight on why Stingley was so highly regarded as an NFL Draft prospect.
"I remember being so excited about Stingley as well," Ulbrich said. "We were able to access some of his practice tape and to see the one on ones, I remember between him and Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson was just something to behold because he absolutely held his own and probably won more battles than he didn't."
4) Attack Zach – Stingley and the Texans defense will face off against a Jets team quarterbacked by Zach Wilson. He's started nine games this season, and subbed in a 10th one when Aaron Rodgers was injured. But hasn't played since a November 19 loss at Buffalo. Wilson's been sacked 38 times in those 10 contests and has six touchdown passes to seven interceptions.
But former New York Jet and current Texans linebacker Blake Cashman believes Wilson has a "great skill set" and "the tools" to cause problems.
"They got weapons over there that Zach will be able to get the ball to," Cashman. "Just containing those skill players, keeping the ball in front of us and getting gritty out there."
Ryans pointed to Wilson's athleticism as a threat.
"He does a good job of moving around in the pocket, and he's a very athletic quarterback," Ryans said. "But overall, not really about the quarterback or who's at the quarterback position, but moreso this week is just all about us and us being honed in on our assignments, our fundamentals, and playing as best as we can play."
5) Nasty Jets defense – Even though the Jets have lost eight games, their defense has been excellent. They're ninth in yards allowed, third in passing yards surrendered and fifth in interceptions.
Right tackle George Fant spent the past three seasons as a Jet, and explained what they do so well.
"They want to get off the ball, get vertical," Fant said. "They have some really good players on the front line. Their front seven honestly are all really good players, really good linebackers. You know across the board they're really good."