JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After losing starting right tackle Austin Pasztor to a season-ending hamstring injury, the Jacksonville Jaguars had to decide whether to try to block all-everything defensive end J.J. Watt with an unproven veteran or an undrafted rookie.
Coach Gus Bradley went with experience, choosing Sam Young over Josh Wells.
Now, Young will have one of the most daunting matchups of his career Sunday when the Jaguars (2-10) host the Houston Texans (6-6).
"It's a great opportunity, it'll be a challenge," Young said. "He's an extremely talented player, probably the best defensive player in the game right now. Like any game, there will be ups and downs, but I'm looking forward to it."
Watt probably is, too.
The 6-foot-5 Watt is tied for fifth in the NFL with 11½ sacks. He also is the first defensive linemen since 1944 with five touchdowns in a season, and the fourth player in NFL history with an interception return for a touchdown, a fumble return for a touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the same season.
Now, he'll be lined up against Young, who has six starts over six NFL seasons with Jacksonville, Buffalo and Dallas. Young started two games this season and fared pretty well.
But those weren't against Watt, who has been one of the NFL's most disruptive defender the past two seasons. And in recent weeks, Watt has been mentioned as a potential MVP candidate.
"I can't control the way anybody votes or anybody's opinion or how they write or what they think," Watt said. "The only thing I can control is what I can control and that is going to practice every day and playing as hard as I can, studying as much film as possible, going to the weight room and working out and then going out there on game day and making as many plays as I can."
The Jaguars have allowed an NFL-high 50 sacks, which is 11 more than second-place Washington. Jacksonville has two rookies on the line in addition to second-year pro Luke Joeckel at left tackle. Each of them is likely to face Watt at some point in the game since he lines up all across the line.
"When we break the huddle, he's a guy you definitely have to have an answer for," Joeckel said.
Jacksonville hasn't in the past. Watt has 37 tackles, 5½ sacks and five passes defended in six games against the Jaguars.
"He's a great football player," Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. "Not just a good football player, he's a great football player. So he's going to be a challenge to go against, and we know that. Who's on the front cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine the same week? The guy is a dude, and we know that."
Aside from the matchup, here are some things to know about Houston and Jacksonville:
BANGED-UP BORTLES: All those sacks seem to be taking a toll on rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who is dealing with injuries to his left ankle and right shoulder. Tests on his shoulder after Sunday's game revealed tendinitis, but nothing that's going to prevent him from playing. "I know he had some soreness in there, but nothing that affects him in practice or in games," Bradley said.
GROUND GAME: Although Jacksonville has played decent defense in recent weeks, the unit has struggled to stop the run. The Jaguars have allowed 156.2 yards a game on the ground since Week 8, the third-worst average in the league. Some of it has to doing with playing without middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. It could get worse this week, with Houston and Arian Foster on tap. The Texans are fourth in the NFL in rushing and have averaged 141.2 yards a game since Week 8.
SACK HAPPY: While Watt gets more attention in the AFC, and deservedly so, the Jaguars are quietly having an impressive season against quarterbacks. Jacksonville has 37 sacks through 12 games. The defense has nine sacks the past two weeks, including five against Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and four against New York's Eli Manning. Sen'Derrick Marks, who has seven sacks from his defensive tackle position, even half-joked this week that he wants to be the better No. 99 on the field Sunday. Watt also wears 99.
RISING RECEIVERS: Houston's DeAndre Hopkins and Jacksonville's Marqise Lee are coming off career games, albeit very different ones. Hopkins caught nine passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee, and Lee had six receptions for 75 yards and a score against the Giants.
INJURY UPDATE: The Texans will be without defensive end Jadeveon Clowney after the rookie went on injured reserve Thursday with a knee injury. Houston also expects to be without tight end Garrett Graham (ankle), and the Jaguars are unlikely to have defensive end Andre Branch (groin).
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