2013 Houston Texans Season Review: Whitney Mercilus (Part I)

More from this man in '14, please. - Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Weston of Battle Red Blog begins revisiting the Houston Texans' 2013 season by looking at Whitney Mercilus's play last season.

For the Houston Texans, there were a multitude of differences between the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. However, some were more egregious than others.  Matt Schaub's arm went full noodle and he couldn't throw the ball farther than fifteen yards, the poetry of the zone run scheme turned from William Wordsworth's Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tinturn Abbey to Sylvia Plath's The Mirror, and the relentless, quarterback haunting pass rush turned from a wolf man roaming the streets on a moonlight flooded night, into a floppy, floundering Magikarp.

Throughout the season, we watched in fury as quarterbacks had ample time to drop back and pick apart the secondary.  Their strategy was simple:  Double J.J Watt and dare the wastebasket of Antonio Smith, Earl Mitchell, Brooks Reed, and Whitney Mercilus to win their one-on-one battles. And you know what?  That strategy worked.  The Texans' pass rush saw substantial decrease in play.  When we look at the numbers comparing 2013 to 2012,  we see the following:

2012 2013
DEF DVOA -14.2% (4th) 2.9% (18th)
Pass DEF DVOA -12.4% (4th) 15.9% (24th)
Run DEF DVOA -16.8% (5th) -11.4% (11th)
Sacks 44 32
ADJ Sack Rate 7.3% (6th) 6.7% (18th)

Houston's defensive DVOA dropped from -14.2% (4th) to 2.9% (18th).  When the pretty boy quarterback threw the ball, their pass defense DVOA went from -12.4% (4th) to 15.9% (24th) and their sack rate fell from 7.3% (6th) to 6.7% (18th). The defense went from great to mediocre in the span of one year, even though it was nearly identical except for the losses of Glover Quin and Connor Barwin. So what went wrong?

Well, the pass defense went from one of the best in the league to a liability because teams were able to attack the middle of the field where Darryl Sharpton, Joe Mays, Brandon Harris, and Brice McCain resided.  The other reason was that the relentless, vicious pass rush turned impotent, which can be seen in the drop in the adjusted sack rate and the eyeball test (it's worth mentioning the sack totals dropped off mostly because Watt's sack totals fell by ten as he regressed to the mean after having the greatest season in the history of the defensive end position). Oh, and the offense being horrendous and Brian Cushing's injury didn't help either.

The main reason why the pass rush was flaccid in 2013 was because of Whitney Mercilus's play. He played weakside linebacker in Wade Phillips' defense, and as Brett wrote last summer, Wade schemed to put Mercilus in ideal situations to make big plays. For this to come to fruition last season (man, that feels weird to say), Mercilus was placed in one-on-one battles against the other team's best pass blocker (the left tackle); Houston's pass rush relied upon him to win this battle and attack the quarterback's blindside. Also,  since he played Will, or weakside linebacker,,  he rarely faced double teams against the run or pass.  Nearly every play came down to the mantra of "Sometimes plays come down to whether your freaks can beat their freaks."  In this case, for the Texans, the answer was sadly no.

If one looked at just the numbers, he or she would think to themselves, "Hmmmm, Whitney had a pretty good first year as a starter.  His stat line for the entire season was 47 tackles, 7 sacks, 18 quarterback hits and 2 stuffs. Additionally, his game-by-game numbers look like this:

Opp Tackles Stuffs Sacks QB Hits
SD 5 0 1 2
TEN 3 0 0 0
BAL 5 0 0 1
SEA 6 0 2.5 3
SF 3 0 1 1
STL 3 0 0 1
KC 2 0 0 0
INDY 1 0 0 1
ARI 1 0 0 1
OAK 2 1 0 0
JAX 6 1 1 4
NE 3 0 .5 1
JAX 2 0 0 0
INDY 2 0 0 1
DEN 2 0 1 1
TEN 1 0 0 1

His numbers paint a murky picture of the season he had in 2013.  Depending on if you are a glass half full or glass half empty person, Mercilus' sack numbers portray a player who had a mediocre to commendable season.  When we look at other stats like tackles, QB hits, and stuffs, we see a player who underperformed. Then when we look at his numbers on a game-to-game basis, he simply disappeared some Sundays. For example, look at the games against Indianapolis (the first one), Arizona, and the second game against Jacksonville, where he made four tackles and hit the quarterback only twice in these three games combined. Despite this, the numbers only describe part of Whitney Mercilus's 2013 season.

There are a few things I am a supporter of.  One of these absolute truths I follow is that in order to gain a full, well thought understanding of a problem, one must combine the subjective and the objective to fully understand what is occurring. In the case of football, it is combining the film with the numbers so one can truly understand what is going on. There is nothing worse than someone saying, "Well, you like numbers" or "I'm a film guy.  Stats are for losers." Why not take advantage of all the information you have available in a game that's already difficult to grasp?

So when we combine Whitney's numbers from this season and look at the film, we see his sack totals are inflated due to being on the getting end of stunts (the one who comes off the other player's attack), plays where he took advantage of being unblocked and others where he feasted on subpar players. The numbers may show a player who had an alright-alright year.  The film clearly shows an outside 'backer who utilizes the same moves continuously and lacks the ability to beat the other team's best pass blocker.  Let's break out the film and paint the other side to this grizzly picture.

First let's flip through the pictures of the sacks Whitney Mercilus was credited with in the 2013 season.

Week 1 vs. SD.  1st Qtr., 10:37 remaining.  2nd and 8

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Mercilus starts the season off strong by beating King Dunlap, who I'm 94.7% sure is named after a character from Redwall, with an inside move. Savor this sack, because we rarely see Mercilus attack the inside shoulder of an offensive lineman with any success.

San Diego is in a 1x2 setup with 2-2-1 (RB, WR, TE) personnel and is looking to throw a quick pass to make third down more manageable. The fullback, Le'Ron McClain, is helping block the right side of the line, so the Chargers make a "Lucky" call. Consequently, in the first of many plays, Whitney Mercilus will be taking on the other team's best pass blocker one on one.

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When Philip Rivers receives the ball and goes into his drop, he stares left as he progresses through his reads. Whitney starts his pass rush by taking three steps outside and aligns his face with King Dunlap's (this is a swell name to type) outside shoulder.

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When Dunlap and Mercilus make contact ,the tackle is punching Mercilus's shoulders, but not his chest. This poor punch placement doesn't allow Dunlap to get a grasp on Mercilus, and it opens the the door for #59 to come right into his chest. Additionally, Merc is attacking with his knees bent and a low center of gravity, so he can get underneath the tackle's pads.

Also pay attention to the guard who has his eyes on Mercilus while using his hands to feel Jared Crick's presence.

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Mercilus plows himself into the stomach of the tackle and uses his left hand to keep himself balanced as he keeps moving his feet. The left guard is now easing his way to the left to help Dunlap out with Mercilus. Over in J.J Watt's neck of the woods, he is being chipped in the ribs by the fullback, who's cooling off his pass rush. When you watch the film, this is something you see nearly every time Watt rushes from the defensive end position.

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Rivers still hasn't found a receiver worthy of a target while Mercilus is drunkenly stumbling into Dunlap's inside shoulder. It's beautiful how much lower he is than Dunlap.  He is utilizing his left arm to help him squeeze back into the B gap like a spelunker at Natural Bridge Caverns.

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The guard moves over to help Dunlap out, but he's incapable of aiding the tackle because Merc has wiggled his way into the B gap. Whitney and Rivers' feet are at the same depth, so Mercilus leaps at him for the sack.

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Rivers stumbles and tries to get the pass away (would have been called grounding anyways), but his knee hits the ground before he releases the ball.

Sack #1

TL:DR?  Mercilus explosively bull-rushes into Dunlap, and because of his low center of gravity he is able to carry his momentum into Rivers.

Week 4 vs. SEA.  2nd Qtr., 13:21 remaining. 1st and 10

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Here we can see the basic layout of the Wade Phillips one gap scheme. Seattle is in the I-formation, using 2-2-1 personnel in a 2 x 0 look (wide receivers are lined up on the left with zero lined up on the right). On the defensive side of the ball, the Texans counter with their base 3-4 defense and have Reed, the strongside 'backer, take the D gap, Watt play the C gap, Brian Cushing has the B, Earl Mitchell the A, Sharpton controls the other A gap, and Smith covers the B.  For the intensive purposes of this article, Mercilus has the C gap while being matched up one-on-one with Seattle's left tackle.

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The Texans fit into their gaps in this still. Seattle is running a play-action fake; consequently, Mercilus does not attack Paul McQuistan, the backup left tackle right away (Russell Okung was injured this game). Instead, he squares up, widens his base, and looks into the back field to see if he should rush up field to attack the pass or contain the run. The tackle takes a quick diagonal slide to Merc rather than kick-sliding backwards because of the play-action fake. What this means is that he's taking a flatter angle towards Mercilus, and Whitney will be coming after him with less speed. It's also worth noting how quickly Cushing recognizes the pass and gets back in coverage compared to Darryl Sharpton.

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Now Mercilus has come into contact with Paul McQuistan. Both are low and square, but the vital difference is Mercilus's hands are placed on McQuistan's numbers.  He is in control from the beginning.

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Whitney unleashes a powerful punch and gains separation from the tackle.

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Mecilus has now accelerated and reengaged with McQuistan. This picture epitomizes Whitney's strengths as a pass rusher. When the tackle goes to punch Merc, he responds by driving his arms back up into Paul's and does not allow #67 to get his hands on him. Now Mercilus can rip inside and chase after a slippery weasel better known as Russell Wilson.

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Mercilus's punch and rip inside with his right arm is stupendous enough to leave McQuistan facing the other direction and wondering, "Where did he go, George?". He now has an open path to Wilson and can enter full chase mode.

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Sack #2.

The most important thing to take away from this sack is how Merc combats the tackle's punch with his own hands, which allows him to gain separation and then attack the quarterback. This play shows off Whitney's greatest strength as a pass rusher--his hands.

Week 4 vs. SEA. 3rd Qtr., 14:55 remaining.  1st and 10.

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On this occasion, the Seahawks are in their 2-2-1 personnel with both of their receivers lined up on the left side. Additionally, Seattle has a Ringo call.  They are shifting the right side of their line one gap over and the left side is BOB (Big on Big). I have written extensively about pass protection schemes in the past; if you are interested in this learning stuff, read this. Seattle's pass protection leaves Mercilus in a one-on-one battle against his old nemesis Paul McQuistan.

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Watt is storming into the C gap, where he is double teamed, of course.  Reed is fighting the outside shoulder of Zach Miller (#86). On the backside, Antonio Smith is freestyle swimming into the B gap over the left guard, James Carpenter, and the topic of discussion is taking the outside route against #67.

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The fake leads to Mercilus decelerating and pausing his engagement with Mr. McQuistan. Just like the previous play, Watt is being doubled teamed.  Pay close attention to the gap in between the right guard and right tackle. That small space in between them is vital to Houston's success on this play.

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Watt splits the double team because the guard and tackle did not get hip-to-hip.  Watt is able to explode through this narrow gap. The key to double teams from an offensive line's perspective is to slather concrete between the two, get hip-to-hip, and become an impenetrable brick wall. When you get split like this, both players push horizontally rather than vertically,  and they end up working against each other.

On the backside of the play, Smith fights inside and garners the attention of McQuistan, who is abiding by the rule that you never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever let the inside man run free. So he steps inside to impede Smith's pass rush, but the left-side guard/tackle duo is going through the same crisis as the right side. They are each unable to get hip-to-hip because they are at different depths and Smith's swim turns Carpenter around. So in the next sequence of events, we will see either Antonio or Whitney chasing after Wilson. Lastly, Merc is using his hands to feel Smith's interior rush to help him decide whether to take the inside or outside route to get to Wilson.

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BUM, BUM... BUM, BUM. Wilson's heart rate is starting to flutter.  Right when he finishes his drop, he sees J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, and Whitney Mercilus all with clear paths towards him. Smith cut the double team in half, Watt is fighting through the four arms grasped across his chest like Poison Ivy's malicious vines, and Mercilus is breaking away outside.

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The left side of the line blew it. After McQuistan went to block down, he should have stayed with Smith. Instead, he tries to come back to block Mercilus and, as a result, he is completely out of position; he lets two guys go free rather than one. On the other side, Watt has now broken free of the double hold and the Texans are slowly suffocating Wilson like a plastic bag.

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Wilson has nowhere to go with the ball.  All he can do is lay down in fear like a puppy dog afraid of his master when the keys enter the doorknob because he devoured and shredded the trash can while the negligent owner was at his monthly extreme ironing tournament.

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Sack #2.5.

Bust out the sack dances. Earlier when I claimed Mercilus's sack totals were inflated, this is what I meant. On this play, he is fed an open route to the quarterback, thanks to Smith's ability to command two sets of eyes.

Week 4 vs. SEA.  4th Qtr., 10:23 remaining. 1st and 15.

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Here the Seahawks are in a 0x3 look and in their 1-1-3 personnel. As far as their pass protection scheme goes, the tackles and guards are playing man-to-man.  The center is piggy backing and picking up whatever trash comes his way. Houston is counteracting with their Dime formation, which has Watt and Smith playing defensive tackle,  Reed and Mercilus playing defensive end, and D.J. Swearinger comes in as an extra safety to help in the box. They also use a T-E stunt where the tackle rushes the B gap to occupy both the guard and tackle, and the defensive end comes around through the A gap.

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First, pay attention to how Watt commands greater attention than Smith does on the opposite side. The right tackle utilizes a shallower kick slide so he can help the guard out with Watt. However, Watt is not without fault on this play. J.J. needs to attack the guard rather than the gap so he can make sure the guard can't peel off and block Reed when he comes inside.

The other thing that's important to note is how much flatter Mercilus is than Reed. What I mean by staying flat is how close he is to the line of scrimmage.  By staying flat, Mercilus can minimize the amount of space to cover when rushing the passer.  He keeps the tackle on the line of scrimmage and he can let Smith work for him while scraping right over the top of his rush. Brooks Reed, on the other hand, is playing too deep.  When he rushes inside, the guard will be able to easily peel off and wait for Reed to fall into his lap.

Additionally, J.R. Sweezy (#64, the right guard), does a beautiful job of setting up the exchange by shoving Watt into Michael Bowie (#73).

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Both Reed and Mercilus are now carrying out their moves inside. On the left side, Smith makes the stunt by turning the guard's shoulders and beating him across his face up the field. Now Mercilus can fight McQuistan's hands off of him as he screams through the B gap with an open path to the quarterback. The right guard is helping with Watt while keeping his eyes on Reed and Sharpton blitzes up the middle to occupy the center so he can't help block the outside rushers who are racing inside.

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The left side is showcasing how to not pick up a T-E stunt. Carpenter (#77) never takes his eyes off Smith and hasn't a clue Mercilus has escaped free into the B gap. This is what happens when you lose three out of five of your starting offensive linemen and have to play with backups who lack the reps to know how to consistently pick up stunts like this.

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Reed was too deep when he made his move inside, so he ends up running right into the center which is, to put it bluntly, not good. Carpenter is having a personality crisis in the middle of the game; he has no idea who he is anymore. On the right side, Watt has ripped underneath Bowie's pads (#73), so Wilson cannot escape outside. Finally, we are left with Mercilus having to tackle Wilson in the open field, where he'll have to utilize every one of those 7.17 seconds he posted in the three-cone drill.

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Sack #3.5.

Mercilus swallows Wilson up in his arms like a man wearing a baggy, soup stained, red-orange Santa suit who's too touchy at the strip mall on December 27th.

This was the best game Mercilus had during the 2013 season. He had a stat line of 2.5 sacks, 6 tackles, and three quarterback hits. Whitney did an incredible job in this game using his speed to bottle up Wilson by spying him until the game was broken open in the third quarter. However, only one of his sacks was the result of him beating an offensive tackle in a one-on-one match-up. He took advantage of a decimated Seattle offensive line and wide open paths to the quarterbacks that Antonio Smith carved for him.

Week 5 vs. SF. 3rd Qtr., 10:40 remaining. 3rd and 5.

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At this point of the game, the Texans are already down 21-3 and have just scored their first points of the night. Here San Francisco is trying to pick up the first by using their 1-3-1 package.  They have their wide receivers in a trips right formation. Houston is responding with their Dime package, with Mercilus and Smith lined up with their hand down on the left.  Watt and Reed are playing the right side.

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Mercilus and Smith are running a stunt that sees Mercilus rush the B gap this time and Smith wraps around his block into the C gap; it's the mirror image of the previous play described. On the other side, Watt is rushing the inside and Reed is matched up one-on-one against Anthony Davis.

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We see Mercilus submarining across Joe Staley's face (#74) akin to his first sack of the year against the Chargers. He does a great job catching Staley off guard by attacking the inside gap with speed and a low center of gravity. Joe's knees are not bent whatsoever and he is compensating for it by leaning forward into Mercilus. Whitney's partner in crime, Antonio Smith, is currently out of position since his head on is on Mike Iupati's inside shoulder (#77). For this stunt to work, something needs to occur so he can get outside placement on Iupati.

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Mercilus has done a great job driving the 6'5", 315 lb. Staley a yard or so inside and knocks him directly into Lupati like he's enjoying a demonic game of bumper cars. His pass rush is ferocious enough to free Smith up to rush the outside, despite the fact Smith let himself get sucked into A gap. The other side has Watt being double teamed, and Reed is playing mercy with Davis.

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Iupati has been completely knocked off his block; he still has no idea what slammed into his side and removed him from latching onto Smith like one of those black worm things. As a result, Staley is trying to cover up his mistake, but he has to turn into a basketball player and try to shut down this 2 vs. 1 man rush. Just like the cartoons, Staley has an angel and a devil on each shoulder; he must choose between blocking (a) Mercilus, who is on his right shoulder or (b) Smith on his left shoulder. I hope my loyal readers have learned enough from me to know what Staley should do.  What's the golden rule of blitz protection?

Don't let the inside man run free.

Staley should block Mercilus.  As the slide step to the left shows, he has chosen poorly.

Colin Kaepernick is in no man's land; he has pressure from the right side, left side, and the interior. The immediate pressure is coming from Brooks Reed, who used his hands to not let Davis engage with him.  As a result, Kap is forced up into the pocket where a horde of slobbering dogs awaits him.

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Reed has zero chance to bring Kap down once he stepped up, but Brooks did make Kap tuck the ball, where lo and behold, Mercilus is sitting in the middle of the pocket waiting for him.

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Sack #4.5.

This sack was an incredible team effort and is the prototypical pass rush we were used to seeing during the first two years of Wade's time in Houston. Mercilus spurns Smith free, forces Staley to make a choice, he chooses wrong, letting Mercilus run free, where Kap runs into him. Also, you can't forget Reed's effort and how he forced Kaperinick into the slobbering horde.

Week 12 vs. JAX.  2nd Qtr., 15:00 remaining. 1st and 10.

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I'll be frank with you, loyal reader.  This play is a train wreck. The Jaguars have two running backs, two wide receivers, and one tight end in a 1x1 balanced look. The problem is they are running a fake end around while pulling their guard to the strong side in an attempt to help sell the play-action fake. It does not make any sense from a schematic standpoint because the fullback is sealing the strong-side edge anyways.

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The center can't block down on Smith, even though he takes a deep bucket or pull step to cover him up, because of the distance and Smith's quickness off the snap. Also it is extremely difficult to snap and block down on a three technique; again, this play does not make any sense. Mercilus is reading the back field, taking an outside route to contain the C gap and is squaring up with the left tackle, Cameron Bradfield (#78).

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Whitney engages with the offensive tackle, punches the outside shoulder, and takes on a half a man. Mercilus takes this same route and makes this same move 90% of the time when he rushes the passer. Outside route, attack outside shoulder, use hands to his advantage.  Play after play after play. In this situation, Bradfield is in great position; he's squared and grasps onto Whitney's numbers.

Smith escaped the clutches of the center and is cozying up in the backfield.

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Mercilus puts his bench press to use, extends his arms, and gains separation from Bradfield while pumping his legs. Since Smith stormed into the backfield in a blaze, he ends up running right in into the cannon ball known as Maurice Jones-Drew and has zero idea if Chad Henne or if the wide receiver, Kerry Taylor, will end up with the ball.

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This still is awesome. Earlier I mentioned how Mercilus had masterful hands.  This is another image that depicts this statement. Here Mercilus actually grabs the tackle's left hand and physically lifts it off him to gain separation like a mother snapping up her child's ulna as the little monster goes to scrub the scales of a diamondback rattlesnake.

It's also worth mentioning that Mercilus has no business getting a pass rush on this play. He takes an outside route to cover up the C gap and it leads to him traveling too far up field. If Henne was taking a three or even five step drop, he could have gotten the ball off, but the plethora of fakes gives Mercilus a larger margin of error and a few precious extra seconds to get to the quarterback.

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Man, this is a fluid move on Mercilus's part. In the same motion, he knocks Bradfield's arm up in the air with his right arm and then uses the same arm to rip underneath Bradfield's left arm. Henne has his back turned and hasn't a clue what is lurking behind him.

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Sack #5.5.

Like his first sack against Seattle, Mercilus displays his agile hands and his ability to use them to create space and separate himself from the clutches of the offensive tackle.

Week 13 vs. NE.  2nd Qtr., 5:40 remaining. 3rd and 5.

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On 3rd and 5, Wade Phillips is taking the risk of bringing six in the Texans' Dime package to try and get to Touchdown Tom Brady. We all have seen how this story has played out the past two seasons, but in this case it worked. Houston is bringing their front five, Reed, Watt, Jeff Tarpinian, Mercilus, and Smith, while smoking (showing blitz) both D.J. Swearinger and Eddie Pleasant before the snap. At the snap, Swearinger drops back into coverage and Pleasant (who may be a little underrated) attacks the C gap while Watt slants inside.

The Texans do get to Brady on this play because of a miscommunication at the line of scrimmage. The right side of the line is shifting over a gap, and the left side is playing man-to-man or BOB.

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Here is where we see the faulty game of telephone that was played at the line of scrimmage. There are three ways this play should be blocked:

a.) Ryan Wendell (#62, C) would block the "1" technique.  Logan Mankins (#70, LG) will use his hand and the right side of his body to help while looking inside looking for anyone rushing the B gap. Then Nate Solder (LT #77) would kick slide out to block Mercilus.

b.) The center and guard double the nose, Solder has the B gap, and #34, Shane Vereen, cuts down Mercilus.

c.) We get a Ringo call on the right side and the center slides over to the A gap. Then the left guard and left tackle play BOB while Vereen looks inside to outside to pick up the blitz.

I could be wrong, but in this case I believe the guard is the one who blows this play and (a) is the right answer. He commits to the double team rather than only lending a hand and keeping his eyes inside for Tarpinian. The reason being is because Solder kick slides to block Mercilus (as we see in the image above); Vereen sprints out to the flat and never looks like he's planning to help in pass protection. When Solder sees Tarpinian coming through the B gap unblocked, he has to cover the inside gap.

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In the previous image, you can see Solder take a wide step with his left foot and here he quickly tries to counteract it by sliding back to his right. The problem is Tarpinian already has the edge inside and his helmet is farther inside than Nate's right shoulder. Solder wasn't at fault here; he was correct to block Tarpinian rather than Mercilus, but as you can see, Merc now has a free release.

Tom Brady is deader than a rotting deer carcass left forgotten on the side of I-35. He is still in the middle of his drop-back and already has two defensive players terrorizing him.

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Tarpinian is not doing anything fancy.  He's only fighting across Solder's face, where he had been handed the advantage inside. Brady plants off his back foot to throw.  Two Texans will be colliding into him in, oh, a second or so.

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Is that an albino squirrel? Nope. It is something rarer: Tom Brady attempting to scramble.

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All Mr. Brady can do is get in the fetal position, put his hands over the back of his neck and crawl under his desk like a 5th grader practicing what to do in case a tornado hits while he's reading Maniac Magee.

Sack # 6.0.

This sack is simply the result of a miscommunication at the line of scrimmage by the Patriots.

Mercilus doesn't do anything other than run in a diagonal line. When most watch a game, they love to utter, "Man, I bet I could run through that hole," or "He was wide open!  Even I could have made that throw," when in reality, there is no way in HE-double hockey sticks they could. However, this is one of the cases where even the man on the couch would have added a sack to his stat sheet.

Week 16 vs. DEN. 3rd Qtr., 10:18 remaining. 3rd and 10.

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Houston is aligned in their Dime package again, but with a little twist. Wade opted to have Watt and Smith line up on the weak side, with Reed and Mercilus play the strong side. The reasoning for this is to get Watt on an island against the the right tackle, Orlando Franklin, who poses a more favorable match-up than an interior pass rush against Zane Beadles or Louis Vasquez where center Manny Ramirez could offer help.

The Texans are sending four and each is rushing the gap straight ahead of them, except for Brooks Reed. The man who resembles Sabretooth is rushing the A gap to draw a double team from Ramirez (C) and Zane Beadles (LG) so he can free up space for his teammates.

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On third and ten, Peyton Manning is taking a five step drop to try and pick up the first down. When trying to get to Manning, it is nearly impossible to pressure him from the outside. His feet are too quick, the pressure does not phase him, he releases the ball before outside pressure can get to him, and he knows when to step up into the pocket. The Broncos know only interior pressure is detrimental to Manning.  Consequently, they try to get double teams inside when they pass protect and then chip away at the outside pressure.

As you can see, both Watt and Mercilus have one-on-one match-ups with the opposing offensive tackles, Orlando Franklin (# 74, RT) and Chris Clark (LT #75). Both Watt and Mercilus are coming right off the tackle's edge to minimize the distance to the quarterback, and each has his helmet aimed at the opponent's outside shoulder.

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Watt is now at Manning's feet, so now tries to rush back towards the line of scrimmage to bring down him down. The running back chips Mercilus in the ribs and knocks him off balance. In the middle of the play, Reed moves too far inside for the guard to be able to help, and now Beadles is watching to see if Tarpinian is going to come on a delayed blitz.

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Mercilus has been able to regain his balance and now has inside hand placement on the tackle, while Clark has two handfuls of shoulder pads. He should be able to rip underneath and knock Clark's hands off of him because of his inside hand placement.

Watt has ripped underneath Franklin's pads and can now move back towards the line of scrimmage to tackle Manning. Peyton can feel Watt, while still having his eyes down field, and is pushing off his back foot up into the pocket, proving how outside pressure doesn't disturb him.

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By stepping up into the pocket, Manning has eluded Watt, who is now outside him. However, Reed looped around Smith in an impromptu stunt (may have been called beforehand, but because of the amount of time it takes Reed to loop around, I assumed the play just flowed this way) and he has what looks to be a free path to the quarterback. Whitney keeps fighting inside and inches toward Manning.  The problem is when the running back scurried into the flat and took Tarpinian with him, Beadles, the left guard, is able to help stop Mercilus's inside route.

The pocket is slowly collapsing on Manning like the Pillar of Autumn (yes, this is a Halo: Combat Evolved reference) as he faces pressure from both edges and right behind him.

Merc_7-6_medium

Manning has to pull the ball down because Reed is a few paces away from the sack.  Manning is now a citizen of No Man's Land.

J.J. bear crawls to regain his balance after pulling the E-brake and quickly changes his path back to Manning, while Mercilus splits a double team that is working against itself.

Merc_7-7_medium

When Reed collides with Velasquez, he knocks him back into Manning, which forces him to tuck the ball for safety. Additionally, Watt and Merc have broken free.

Merc_7-8_medium

All Manning can do is lay down and protect the soft spot where his neck is fused to his spine, but where he lays down is important for the book keeper. Since he falls down to his left, it allows Merc to tap him down for the sack.  If he fell to his right, Watt would have been awarded the sack and Mercilus's effort in this play would have been forgotten.

Sack #7.

This is Mercilus's final sack of the season. On this play, he did an incredible job of not giving up and continuing to fight, but J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed were the ones who made this play. Watt forced Manning up into the pocket where Reed was waiting.  All Mannning could do was lay down and save himself . Additionally, since Peyton laid down to his left, it allowed Mercilus to get credit for the sack.

*********

Generally, sack numbers aren't a good indicator of performance.  Hopefully we will soon be living in a world where hurries, hits, and sacks where the rusher is untouched are distributed freely across the internet. In this case, Merc's sack numbers overrate his performance last season. When we break down his sacks, we can see they came under the following situations:

Sack Type Number of sacks
Rushed Untouched .5
Right Place, Right Time 1 (DEN sack)
Beats the LT 3
Stunt 2.5

We see only three of Mercilus's seven sacks were an individual effort.  The rest where the results of stunts, tapping the quarterback when he fell in front of him, and rushing unblocked. Additionally, of the three sacks where he beat the offensive tackle, two came against Seattle's backup offensive tackle, Paul McQuistan; the other came against the underwhelming at best Corey Bradfield. There is nothing wrong with being opportunistic, but it overstates Mercilus's season.  His sack numbers are actually more of an indicator on how Phillips' scheme can manufacture a pass rush when he has the personnel gelling together. Since it is established the numbers are a faulty way to look at Mercilus's season, in my next post I will analyze how Mercilus performs in one-on-one situations, where his weaknesses are, and how he can improve going into next season.

I know how much you love cliffhangers, so check back on Monday for Part II.

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