J.J. Watt is 30 now, in his ninth NFL season. He’s played 111 regular-season games, had to cope with severe injuries in recent seasons and taken thousands of hits. So, it’s not a knock to say he’s probably not as good as he once was.
Yet he remains a terrific player, and one every opponent has to consider in its game plan. The five-time first-team All-Pro defensive end for the Houston Texans twice has had seasons of 20½ sacks and has three times led the NFL in tackles for loss. He has 96 career sacks and 264 quarterback hits. He's a pressure machine.
So, when the Raiders travel to Houston to take on the Texans Sunday, the Oakland offensive line will have to be on its game to contain Watt and protect quarterback Derek Carr.
But, this season, the Raiders’ offensive line has often been up to the challenge. And, for the first time in 2019, it appears Oakland will have its best players up front: Kolton Miller and Trent Brown at tackles, guards Gabe Jackson and Richie Incognito and center Rodney Hudson.
Even with backups shuttling in and out of the lineup because of injuries early this season, Oakland’s offensive line ranks No. 5 in the NFL in team pass-block win rate, according to ESPN analytics.
Brown missed last week’s game, a loss to the Packers, but head coach Jon Gruden believes he’ll play against the Texans. And Jackson made his 2019 debut a week ago.
Miller and Brown will be key in fending off Watt. Both are having terrific seasons.
Brown ranks No. 1 among all NFL offensive tackles in pass-block win rate at 95 percent, according to ESPN analytics, and Hudson is No. 6 among centers, at 96 percent.
As Austin Boyd of Heavy.com noted this week, Brown has been one of the NFL’s best overall offensive linemen this season.
Wrote Boyd: “The Raiders invested big-time in him, and he’s making them happy with his decision.”
Also, Miller, at left tackle, has taken a huge step forward after a shaky rookie year, when he had to cope with injuries. Boyd says Miller has “completely turned things around in Year Two.” He cites national offensive/defensive line analyst Brandon Thorn, who says Miller has fine-tuned his pass-blocking set up, allowing him to much more effectively block pass rushers.
Still, the Texans’ Watt will be a handful. Against the Colts this past weekend, he had six quarterback hits – and already has 20 this season. He has four sacks in 2019, including two in one game against the Chargers in September.
Kickoff Sunday in Houston is set for 1:25 p.m. (Bay Area time). The Raiders are 3-3. Houston is 4-3.