HOUSTON — After the Houston Texans traded Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks before the start of the season, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel pointed to outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus as someone who needed to help replace some of the pass rush they’d be losing.
In two games Mercilus has done that, with three sacks, three quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, a tackle for a loss and an interception. He has three of the Texans’ five sacks this season.
Mercilus didn’t rush the passer as much last season and instead was asked to drop back in coverage. Before the 2019 season, Crennel said he hoped to use Mercilus more in the role he played several years ago, when he was going after the quarterback. During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Mercilus had a combined 19.5 sacks. The following season, the veteran tore his pectoral muscle in Week 5, and missed the rest of the year.
“[This year] I get to go ahead and go out there and go tee it up,” Mercilus said. “Do what I do best, get after the quarterback, cause turnovers, and all that.”
Mercilus, who is in his eighth NFL season, is in a contract year. The Texans’ front seven was the strength of their team in the recent years, led by J.J. Watt, Clowney, Mercilus and nose tackle D.J. Reader. With Clowney gone and Mercilus and Reader in contract years, the future of that group could be up in the air after the season. If Mercilus continues to play like this, he will receive a big contract after the season, either in Houston or somewhere else.
In Sunday’s 13-12 victory over the Jaguars, Mercilus recorded his 11th career game with two or more sacks, which is the third-most in team history behind Watt (24) and Mario Williams (12).
After the Texans’ defense allowed 30 points and 510 yards in the season opener in New Orleans, the unit did a better job against rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew and the Jaguars’ offense. Minshew completed 23 of 33 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown.
The defense won the game for the Texans with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. After Minshew drove the Jaguars down the field and scored on a 4-yard touchdown pass, Jacksonville went for two instead of attempting an extra point that would have tied the game. Texans safety Justin Reid tackled running back Leonard Fournette inches from the goal line.
“Man, it was a hell of a play by the defense,” Mercilus said. “We knew we had to buck up. Let the quarterback get out a few times on that drive. He was making a couple plays downfield, throwing it, but when it really counted, defense came through. We got a critical stop right there just to win the game.”
Last week, the Texans’ defense lost the game after Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson threw a go-ahead touchdown pass with 37 seconds left in the game and the unit let the Saints get enough yardage to kick a game-winning 58-yard field goal with two seconds remaining. Watt said he thought the defense responded well in Week 2.
“I think we played good most of the game,” Watt said. “Obviously, the last drive, we would like to not let that happen, but to hold a team to 12 points, it’s tough to do in this league. It doesn’t matter what team it is.
“I thought we responded well. I’d like to have the last drive back, but other than that, I think all day long we had a pretty solid day.”