Houston Texans: Whitney Mercilus remains an underrated defender

Houston Texans, Whitney Mercilus (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Houston Texans, Whitney Mercilus (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans have an underrated defender in Whitney Mercilus heading into this upcoming season.

The Houston Texans have a solid team contending for a Super Bowl this upcoming year, but they’ll need to count on their defense to improve after an uneven season on defense last year. The defense took a hit as a collective unit after J.J. Watt was placed on the injury report for the remaining eight games of the regular season.

The Houston Texans defense declined to close the second half of the season as they finished 28th in the league by allowing an average of 388.3 yards per game and 19th overall in points allowed with an average of 24.1 points per game.

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The pass-rushing area of the defense looked to be in shambles at times with Jadeveon Clowney’s departure to the Seattle Seahawks before the season and Watt’s unfortunate injury. The spotlight shifted to Whitney Mercilus to step up in the 2019 season. Mercilus had seen his fair share of struggles in 2018 after recovering from a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season prematurely in 2017.

Mercilus had a career-low four sacks playing through 16 games in 2018, but his decline wasn’t due to his struggles as a pass rusher; He was poorly used as an off-ball linebacker until Clowney’s departure. The defense struggled to incorporate Clowney, Watt, and Mercilus while all three of them were healthy on the field. For the majority of their timeline together, at least one was out that allowed the other two to line up as the edge rushers.

When their health was aligned, Mercilus was the one that struggled the most as they used him to drop back in coverage as an off-ball linebacker more than the other two. That led to his poor sack numbers. However, when they moved him back to the edge after Clowney’s departure, it was night and day of a difference.

He had 7.5 sacks, 16 QB hits, 9 TFL, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and two interceptions last season in his contract year. Mercilus sacks lead the team, and his two interceptions ranked second on the team.

Barring any unforeseen injury, Mercilus is going to have more success as the edge rusher with Watt returning to take the majority of the attention of opposing offenses. Whitney is by far the second-best pass rusher on the roster and is under contract after re-signing to a respectable four years worth $54 million.  Not to mention his contract is very team-friendly after the first two seasons

Mercilus can affect the passing and run game as the number two pass rusher on defense. Although he isn’t the type of defender to command an entire offense to game plan for him like the elite pass rushers in the NFL, he is right below that tier as a solid second option on any defense.

Texans need another outside linebacker across from him to help the defense, and the Texans addressed that need with drafting Jon Greenard in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Texans have an intriguing group of pass rushers for next season, and Mercilus’ success will form a significant part for the defense to have a bounce-back season.