5. Let Whitney Mercilus be the pass rusher he’s meant to be
When Whitney Mercilus entered the 2017 season expectations were at an all-time high for the outside linebacker, unfortunately a torn pectoral injury cut his season short, only appearing in five games.
In the previous two seasons combined, Mercilus recorded 103 tackles, 19.5 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. Before the 2017 season, Mercilus was used mostly as an edge rusher, attack offensive lines and helping to free up defensive ends J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, giving the pair an easier shot at opposing quarterbacks.
Near the beginning of the 2017 season, Mercilus was starting to be used a bit differently. Mercilus was used more in coverage, this was done in attempts to relieve pressure on a subpar Houston secondary. The shift took Mercilus out of his natural fit and forced him to chase after speedier receivers.
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Mercilus is not slow by any means, running a 4.68 40-yard dash when he was drafted by the Texans back in 2012. That being said, asking Mercilus to drop in coverage detracts from where he fits naturally, as an extra edge rusher with some limited zone coverage skills.
Mercilus returned to the field in 2018, playing in all 17 games for Houston. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel began to shift Mercilus back to his natural position, but has continued to use him in coverage far too often. When Mercilus was allowed to rush the quarterback, he provided decent pressure, recording 14 quarterback hits and four sacks on the season.
Sack wise, it was the lowest season sack total of his career minus his injured season, but the flashes were there. A potential remedy to get him more involved starts at the point of attack, the defensive line.
Houston officially runs a 3-4 defense, but as the season progressed, the Texans transitioned into a 4-3. Crennel rotated tackles as the season went on, wanting to keep players fresh. Four of these tackles are set to hit free agency on March 13. The verdict isn’t out on all of these guys yet, with players such as Angelo Blackson and Brandon Dunn being standouts from the group.
Re-signing these two could go along way on shoring up an already solid defensive line, but using them properly is the concern. When Mercilus was being used to attack the quarterback, it often came at the same time that one or both of these guys were being used in a stunt on the defensive line.
A team doesn’t want to stunt too often, in fear of becoming predictable, but if used at the right time the move can pay quick dividends for the defense. If Houston is seeking for more pressure outside of the defensive end position, bringing Mercilus back in line as the pass rusher he’s meant to be, would be a great start.