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6 Players to Watch at Jets' Home Rodeo vs. Houston

Z.Wilson-to-G.Wilson Connection Will Be One Key in Keeping Things Close vs. C.J. Stroud & Texans' Aerial Attack


Used to be the Houston Texans were good for Jets business. They won their first five against the Houston expansionists, capped in 2010 by the exciting 30-27 comeback led by a second-year QB by name of Mark Sanchez. Then the Lone Star Staters took the next three. The Green & White rebounded with the 21-14 win two years ago in Houston.

This year's meeting might have seemed to be a continuation of the return to the early years of this recent rivalry — new head coach in fiery, high-character former LB DeMeco Ryans but inexperienced, new QB in second overall pick C.J. Stroud out of The Ohio State University.

Well, so far the combination leading the Houston delegation has been a success. Stroud leads the NFL with 3,540 passing yards, an 8.5 yards/attempt average topped only by Brock Purdy and Tua Tagovailoa, and a 20-to-5 TD-to-INT margin. And Ryans has guided the Texans operation to top-10 rankings in many key categories and a 7-5 record.

Who needs the game more? The Texans, who are one spot out of the AFC playoff ladder and seeking to speed up the Ryans process toward the postseason? Or the 4-8 Jets and Robert Saleh, who has installed Zach Wilson at quarterback again to try somehow get the offense jumpstarted.

Saleh has benched Wilson before, even this season, but his general belief has never wavered in No. 2 and he reiterated that for fans and media again this week.

"Zach's in a great place, the locker room is in a great place, and he will be ready to play ball," Saleh said. "He's taking care of the ball, making plays with this feet. When he puts it together for four quarters, I think he can be pretty damned good."

Here are six players — one of them, no surprise, is Wilson — to watch when the Jets continue to battle for the upper hand with the Texans and for their own sense of belief in themselves.

QB Zach Wilson — Meet the new Zach. But is he the same as the old Zach? We know the things he's done well this season, getting a handle on interceptions, scrambling like Fred Astaire, leading Jets comebacks vs. some tough opponents. We also know the issues that got him a front-row seat a few weeks ago: not enough yards, touchdowns, points, third-down conversions. Accentuate the former group, increase the metrics in the latter— especially because the defense will need the rest and refocus time provided by the offense scoring and holding onto the ball to be able to put a damper on hot rookie Stroud.

WR Garrett Wilson — Reestablishing the Wilson-to-Wilson intermediate and long-range connection is important to whatever success Z.Wilson and the Jets offense is going to have over the final five weeks. G.Wilson, who caught a 31-yarder out of the second-half gate vs Atlanta, has 21 career explosive catches (20+ yards) and Z.Wilson has thrown 14 of them. The Texans would seem vulnerable to a pass-first opponent, since they're 26th in net pass yards/game and 29th (7.19) in yards/pass play. And limbering up the back end should loosen up the front end for RB Breece Hall, if his ankle doesn't limit him, to have a long-awaited big game toting the rock.

CBs Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed and Michael Carter — Might the Jets' coverage task against Stroud & Co. have gotten easier with the season-ending injury suffered by precocious and productive rookie WR Tank Dell on Sunday? Guess again. Houston still has Nico Collins (team-high 59 catches and 991 yards), Noah Brown (20.9-yard average on 21 catches) and venerable Robert Woods. Stroud's offense has been No. 24 in the NFL in rushing and No. 2 in passing for each of the past three weeks, and their approach doesn't figure to change much despite the painful departure of Dell.

K Greg Zuerlein — Legatron has had a productive 1½ seasons with the Jets but lately Z has seemed to be catching gametime Z's because the offense hasn't even been able to move into his FG range. But assuming that a thawed offense and stout defense can conspire to provide the field position, Zuerlein could get more than the two FGs he's had for the past three games combined, And it will be needed assuming the Texans tell former Jets K Matt Ammendola to step aside for Ka'imi Fairbairn, reportedly ready to return from a quad injury and bring his uncanny 94% overall FG accuracy back into the Houston equation.

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