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Red Zone Play: Where Has Whitney Mercilus Been?

Merci’s back, baby!

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Whitney Mercilus has proven time and again he’s the kind of player you want to root for, the kind of guy dads want their kids looking to as a role model. That’s not just because he has one of the best charitable organizations out there. So it’s been hard to watch him fade away over the last two years. Guess what?

Whitney’s back, baby!

Two games into the 2019 NFL season, and your Houston Texans have one of the top sack masters in the league. After paying Jadeveon Clowney to leave for Seattle (yep, still sore about that), the big question was how could Romeo Crennel possibly get pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the inevitable double-teams (and no-call holding penalties) certainly coming J.J. Watt’s way?

J.J. Watt:

There were a couple of holding calls out there... it’s every week. The ref literally admitted to me that guy held me on one play, and he didn’t throw the flag. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that after a play. I look over at the ref and he says, “Yes, I saw him hold you, but I didn’t throw the flag.”

For those who recall the early days of Jadeveon Clowney’s time in Houston, there was a lot of speculation as to how Crennel would get Clowney, Watt and Mercilus on the field at the same time. The answer was to move Mercilus out of his natural spot and, apparently, off the chess board altogether.

In 2015, arguably Clowney’s worst full season as a Texan, J.D. had 40 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 8 hits on opposing signal callers. That same year, Mercilus had 12 sacks, 50 tackles and 16 hits on the quarterback.

In 2016, as the two were vying for playing time and Crennel was moving them around the board, Mercilus fell to 7.5 sacks but had 22 hits on the QB while Clowney had 6 sacks and 17 hits on the quarterback.

2017 saw Mercilus endure a torn pectoral muscle in what many remember as “the worst ten minutes in Texans history” that also saw J.J. Watt go down for the year.

Many wondered if Mercilus would ever return to form after he posted pedestrian numbers in 2018, with only 4 sacks and 14 hits on the QB, rarely hearing his name during the games.

But if the early returns of 2019 are any indication, Mercilus is back and ready to rise back to his role as a premier outside linebacker, a reputation he was just beginning to wear when the infamous “10 Minutes” struck him down.

Through two games this year, Mercilus has 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, and an interception. If he can keep up this pace, Mercilus will eclipse J.J. Watt’s franchise best sacks per season mark, with 24. Now, it’s a long season and expecting that sort of production from Mercilus is a little unrealistic, but as long as teams continue to double- and triple-team Watt, Mercilus will continue to have opportunities. If his post-game commentary is any indication, Mercilus is renewed in spirit as well as deeds:

[This year] I get to go ahead and go out there and go tee it up. Do what I do best, get after the quarterback, cause turnovers, and all that.

With free agency looming and the wild west brewing in Houston’s front office, the questions of whether Houston will pay Mercilus to stay in H-Town or let him walk away to the highest bidder next off-season will come. No matter what happens, Mercilus has given notice that 2019 will be a special year for him.

What do you think about @Merci380 so far? Expect him to top the defensive charts this season? Think he’ll finish his career in H-Town? Have a prediction for how many plays he’ll wreck for opposing teams this year?