Linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Dylan Cole were cleared from the COVID-19 list yesterday and allowed to rejoin the team. This means both should hit the field this weekend when your Houston Texans face off against the Cleveland Browns. Houston has won the last five meetings with the Browns, but due to defensive woes, they struggled to put away the hapless, rookie QB led Jacksonville Jaguars last weekend. As odd as it is to say, the Browns are a much better team than the Jags. Sitting at 5-3, the Browns are coming off a bye week and hoping franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield can slide out from under the COVID cap himself in time to play this weekend. Myles Garrett, Cleveland’s best edge rusher, is tied for the lead league with nine sacks so far in 2020.
On the other side of the field, Houston’s J.J. Watt leads the team with four sacks. Allegedly, when former Texans destroyer-of-football-hope, Bill O’Brien, decided to pay Jadeveon Clowney to go play for the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, he fully believed that Whitney Mercilus would rise up and take Clowney’s place as a defensive game changer. So far, that’s not really panned out. As a self-professed lover of all things Mercilus, it’s disappointing to see his far from Pro Bowl caliber stats in 2020.
In a situation where this team desperately needs players to rise up and seize the opportunities to be great, Mercilus hasn’t so much as sniffed the brass ring. In 2020, Mercilus has played in seven games, only made 14 total tackles, has four tackles-for-loss, and three sacks. In fact, his performance has been so bad that Pro Football Focus currently has him rated 49.5, good enough for 109th out of 111 eligible linebackers overall.
Let that sink in:
Whitney Mercilus is ranked 109th out of 111 linebackers.
If every team in the NFL ran a 3-4 defense, that would mean there were 132 total starting linebackers in the league right now. Mercilus is ranked 109th.
Come on man!
One might think maybe it’s new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver not putting players in the position to make plays, but surely Romeo Crennel would pick up on that and advise Weaver to make adjustments. Instead, crickets.
Next up, we have the linebacker equivalent of Kahale Warring, Dylan Cole. #51 broke on the scene with a spectacular turnover a few years back, but has failed to cement himself as a top tier defender since then, battling nagging injuries and not really capitalizing on his opportunities when healthy. Per PFF.com, Cole is currently scoring a 47.5 overall rating, which is literally off-the-charts bad. However, that mind-numbingly bad score is the aggregate of three whole plays.
With J.J. Watt practically begging his teammates to rise up, it’s time for Mercilus and Cole to step into their potential and show the world this weekend they can be NFL caliber starting linebackers. One player who has been rising to the occasion is former
Oakland Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Tyrell Adams. In 2020, Adams has been pressed into service due to injuries, especially the season-ending one to Benardrick McKinney, and poor performances from his linebacking peers. Adams has made the most of his snaps. Currently sporting a PFF score of 68.9, Adams has 48 tackles in 277 defensive snaps, putting up a 79.1 run defense score and a 75.6 pass rush rating. While he falls down in coverage, Adams is certainly contributing more than Cole and Mercilus have so far.
To quote an old cliche, this Sunday is the first day of the rest of the Texans linebacking corps’ lives. It’s time for Mercilus, Cole. and several others to step up and show the world they aren’t worthy of the “worst defense in football” label that’s been slapped on them this season. Besides, they’re only the third worst, not the absolute worst. If Mercilus can rise up, Cole can join him, Watt can be Watt, and Adams can keep contributing at his current rate, Houston’s defense could pull themselves out of the gutter.
Based on the stats so far, it doesn’t look good. But that’s why they play the games.