FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — No players felt better walking off the field in Buffalo on Sunday than the Jets’ offensive linemen.
The much-maligned group didn’t give up a sack for the first time this season and opened the hole on Elijah McGuire’s winning 1-yard touchdown run.
That O-line will face a far different and more difficult challenge Saturday, though. The Jets will have to keep Houston’s bookend havoc-wreaking linemen, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, off Sam Darnold in what probably is considered a major mismatch. Advantage: Texans.
“I like being underdogs sometimes because you just don’t know what to expect from underdogs,” right tackle Brandon Shell said.
Shell likely will be matched up against the 6-5, 295-pound Watt for much of the game, and he’s someone who’s next to impossible to stop one-on-one. Watt has 12 1⁄2 sacks, tied for third in the league, and 15 tackles for loss.
A three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Watt is showing no signs of wear and tear after back and leg surgeries that limited him to a total of eight games the previous two seasons. He continues to be one of the fiercest pass rushers and game wreckers in the NFL.
“He’s one of the top pass rushers in the league,” Shell said. “I just got to go out there and play my game. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many sacks he has. I know he’s a good player and I just know what I got to do.”
“He’s tough,” coach Todd Bowles said. “I don’t have enough adjectives to say what everyone hasn’t already said. He’s a great player. He’s an outstanding football player . . . We got our hands full.”
The Texans rank 11th in the NFL with 36 sacks. The versatile Clowney, who can play on the edge or at linebacker, has seven.
At this point in the season, the Jets should be used to playing good fronts and premier edge rushers.
They opened against Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah and also have had to fend off Denver’s Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter and Cleveland’s Myles Garrett. All four are in the top six in sacks this season.
For all of the criticism the Jets’ offensive line has taken, it has been better than expected. The Jets have allowed 28 sacks, the ninth fewest in the league.
“It’s a challenge every week,” Shell said. “Everybody has good pass rushers. We know that they have some elite pass rushers. We just got to go out there and play.”
It becomes even more critical to protect Darnold because the Texans might have more chances to hit him. His dropbacks could increase Saturday, given the health of his backfield.
The Jets will be without leading rusher Isaiah Crowell, who has a toe injury. That leaves second-year back McGuire and rookie Trenton Cannon as the Jets’ two “healthy” backs.
McGuire hasn’t practiced in full all week because of an ankle and is questionable. Bowles said he’s a game-time decision. If he can’t go, the Jets will have to promote De’Angelo Henderson or Mark Thompson from the practice squad.
The Jets will plan accordingly, but the offensive linemen enter this game feeling good about themselves after doing some heavy lifting in Buffalo.
“It’s important just to build confidence,” Shell said. “We know that confidence can drive us into this week and just builds and builds and keeps us building so we can close out this season on a good note.
“Everybody is on the same page. Everybody knows what we have to do. Everybody knows what’s expected of everybody. So we just got to go out there and play.”