Antonio Cromartie knows exactly how to shut down Andre Johnson.
It's all right there on film from two years ago. That's when Darrelle Revis held the Houston Texans wide receiver to just one catch for 7 measly yards in the New York Jets' 30-27 victory.
Easy enough, right? Well, with Revis out for the season with a torn knee ligament, it will be Cromartie's job Monday night to cover Johnson when the Jets (2-2) and Texans (4-0) tangle at MetLife Stadium. And, he's hoping for similar results.
"I'm just studying," said the Jets cornerback, who has closely reviewed how Revis defended Johnson the last time the teams played. "He's one of the best receivers in the game. He's a big, physical receiver that can get in and out of his breaks. He knows how to use his body very well."
Johnson has shown that over and over throughout his impressive career. He has five seasons of 1,000 yards receiving or more, and is 76 yards shy of 10,000 for his career. If Johnson does it Monday night, he will become the sixth-fastest player in NFL history to accomplish the feat, doing it in his 127th game.
"He reminds me of two great, great players that I was around: Jerry Rice and Rod Smith," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "The biggest comparison there is work habits, but I think the thing that I'm most impressed with Andre for is when I came here, I think Andre might have been in year three. Just to watch, this day and time, for a player to stay the course with an expansion franchise like he did through some very tough times, tells you what he's all about as a person."
The stats also show that Johnson has been one of the game's elite receivers — except against the Jets. In the 2009 season opener, he was also matched against Revis and managed four catches for 35 yards.
"Of course, you know what type of player Darrelle Revis is, so you know that it's going to be a great challenge," Johnson said. "I don't change my preparation just because he's not playing. I'm going to prepare like I always prepare for anybody. That doesn't change anything, just because he's not playing."
Maybe not for Johnson, but for the Jets, Revis' absence is a major hurdle to overcome. Coach Rex Ryan considers Cromartie a No. 1-type cornerback, and the veteran has a chance to prove his coach right. Cromartie's style is very different from Revis' in that he relies on his speed and athleticism to make plays and isn't considered as physical as his All-Pro teammate.
But Cromartie sizes up perfectly from a height standpoint: Johnson is 6-foot-3, while Cromartie is 6-2.
"Playing against bigger receivers, it matches up very well for me," Cromartie said. "I can use my length and things like that. I'm really looking forward to it. This is my third time playing the Texans in my career and I've never faced up against Andre. This is my first time facing him, so I'm definitely looking forward to it."
With 16 catches this season, Johnson is actually second to tight end Owen Daniels (19) in receptions on a Texans team that sets things up with Arian Foster and the running game. Foster has already carried the ball 103 times for 380 yards, and that makes things a lot easier for Matt Schaub.
Schaub has thrown for 953 yards and seven touchdowns and one interception. He has also been sacked just three times.
"You have to do both, eliminate the running game and turn a team into a one-dimensional team," Cromartie said. "You have to try and make sure they throw the ball more than run the ball."
That's because the Texans use a zone-blocking scheme that has helped them average more than 136 yards rushing a game. The more Houston runs and starts rolling, the more the Jets will have to stack the box to stuff Foster and backup Ben Tate — and that will potentially leave Cromartie and fellow cornerback Kyle Wilson in some one-on-one situations.
"I know he's looking forward to the challenge," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said of Cromartie. "He's prepared well for it all week. The back end's going to have to step up. This is a much better passing attack than what we've faced."
The Jets, on the other hand, are scrambling to replace top receiver Santonio Holmes, who suffered a season-ending foot injury last week against San Francisco. Rookie Stephen Hill, New York's second-round pick, is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury — as is tight end Dustin Keller.
That means three of Mark Sanchez's primary targets will likely not be out there Monday night. The Jets will need second-year receiver Jeremy Kerley, veteran Chaz Schilens, inexperienced Clyde Gates and newly signed Jason Hill to perform in a big way — or it could be yet another long night for Sanchez and the Jets' struggling offense.
"They're good players," offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said. "They're just getting different opportunities now. I think that's part of this game. Part of this game is all about opportunity. I've watched some players along the way here make the most of those opportunities when their number is called. Here's an opportunity for players to step up and that's what we have to do."
Holmes leads the Jets with 20 receptions, while backup tight end Jeff Cumberland is second with 11. Add in a lousy stretch by Sanchez and a running game that's averaging just 3.2 yards a carry, and the Jets' offense has hardly resembled the one that was clicking all game in the opener when New York beat Buffalo 48-28.
Kerley, who has 10 catches, is confident he and his fellow receivers can not only help make up for the loss of Holmes but silence the critics who think Sanchez has no one to throw to anymore.
"We just go out there and do what we can do and handle what we can handle," Kerley said. "At the end of the game, we'll let the score talk for itself and the stats talk for themselves."
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