By Howie Kussoy
October 8, 2016
New York Jets defensive tackle Steve McLendon (99) sacks Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton (14) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
For six years, Steve McLendon lined up against Ben Roethlisberger.
Training camp after training camp and practice after practice, the defensive tackle chased after the Steelers quarterback, but was always forced to fight instinct, always stopping short of touching the face of the franchise.
“I never even came close to hitting him,” McLendon, now with the Jets, told The Post. “That was a quick way to lose your job. Don’t touch the money man.
“Oh, but I’m gonna hit him this weekend.”
If the Jets have any chance of slowing the Steelers on Sunday, their defensive front will need to limit how much time Roethlisberger has to throw after he passed for 300 yards and five touchdowns against the Chiefs last week.
The struggling Jets secondary is allowing a league-worst 71.4 completion percentage and 9.7 yards per catch, and is vulnerable to another embarrassing effort against an aerial attack with a league-best 11 passing touchdowns — and perhaps the league’s best receiver, Antonio Brown — but Sheldon Richardson said he hopes Roethlisberger doesn’t think he can repeat last week’s performance.
“We like playing against vertical teams,” Richardson said. “They hold the ball a little bit longer and give us a chance to get there.”
To start the season, no team was more effective than the Jets at getting to the quarterback. They had five sacks in the first half of the season-opener, and finished that loss to the Bengals with seven sacks, but the defense has registered just four sacks in the past three games.
Coach Todd Bowles has been pleased with the defensive line, but also knows how much more production the Jets can get from their strongest unit.
“I think they’ve been playing well. I have no complaints there,” Bowles said. “Obviously you’d like more, but they work well together. I think they’ve been doing a good job.”
Richardson had a similar take.
“We do our job, but it’s not creating wins, so we’re not happy with it,” Richardson said. “Kansas City was probably the only week we didn’t get to the quarterback … but we’re not winning.”
Even with running back Le’Veon Bell back from a suspension, the Steelers could opt for another pass-heavy game plan against the league’s second-ranked run defense, giving the Jets an opportunity to exploit what may be the game’s biggest mismatch.
Steelers tackles Marcus Gilbert and Ryan Harris have been ruled out for Sunday, leaving third-stringer Chris Hubbard to protect Roethlisberger at right tackle. Hubbard, who primarily plays on the interior line, will be making his first-ever start at the position opposite defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
Richardson smiled when told about the matchup, expecting Wilkerson to show why he was given a massive new contract this summer.
“That’s gotta be a great situation for Mo,” Richardson told The Post.
Maybe Wilkerson will break through snap after snap, and maybe McLendon and Leonard Williams will take advantage of extra attention given to the Pro Bowl defensive end.
But even if Roethlisberger is thrown against the ropes, Mcendon has seen so many defenses land nothing more than harmless jabs against one of the tougher quarterbacks in the league to take down.
“He’s s got good feet and he can stay up,” McLendon said. “Ben is smart and he sees everything. He’s got his eyes on you and his eyes down the field, and when guys come at him, most guys reach for the ball, but you’ve got to tackle him first and wrap him up.
“We’ve just got to finish. We’ve got to do it for four quarters.”