The name of the game for teams around the NFL is to gather talent and continue to build year-to-year. The Houston Texans have done exactly that. With the absence of the top defender in the NFL in J.J. Watt, the Texans were fortunate to have two of their own in Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney grow into a fearsome tandem, creating issues for opposing offenses.
That presence was put on display this past weekend in the wildcard round against the Oakland Raiders, when both Mercilus and Clowney made game-changing plays on the defensive side of the ball to help the Texans in their win.
Bill O’Brien likes the development of his two edge players and how they have continued to grow and produce on the field. O’Brien has said many time that Mercilus is probably the most improved player over his three seasons here in Houston and his development is coming from the coaching combined with the work Mercilus is putting in.
“Whitney (Mercilus), I don’t even know where to start with Whitney. Whitney is a very hardworking guy. He’s a guy that’s – he’s very regimented in how he approaches the game, meaning he’s in here at 6 a.m. no matter what the schedule is,” explained O’Brien. “He’s watching tape, he’s working out, he’ll go in the weight room and work on different techniques that maybe (Mike) Vrabel has asked him to work on or Romeo (Crennel).”
As for Clowney, the third year end is starting to hit his stride at the right time for the Texans and the game changing plays he is producing are exactly what the Texans saw on film when scouting him at South Carolina. Now, the hardline approach employed with Clowney is playing off on the field.
“The thing with J.D. is, like I’ve said thousands of times, when he first came here he dealt with a lot of injuries. You go from knee to concussion to shoulder to elbow, whatever, ankle, whatever it is. And this year, and coming in to this year, he’s been healthy for the most part,” said O’Brien of Clowney. “He’s banged up like everybody else, but he’s generally healthy relative to this time of the year. He’s able to be out there at practice, he’s able to get the coaching on the practice field, not just in the meeting room. He’s playing at a high level and he’s having fun. You see his personality - this is who he is.”
With their lockers right next to each other, Mercilus and Clowney have a strong bond, on the field, in everyday conversation, and off the field. Clowney, even after his big game against the Raiders, was quick to point out the performance that Mercilus put together to the media.
Clowney knows his game could not be where it is without Mercilus opposite of him, doing what he does best.
“He has his own technique. We’re two different players. We play totally different. That’s what makes us so good together, playing together,” said Clowney of his on field relationship with Mercilus. “He has a different game plan how he rushes. I rush a little different. When we flip-flop sides, it gives tackles a problem because we both give them something different. To have him out there on the field with me, it’s a big thing. It’s good for me.”
Mercilus knows that his success is based on the defense around him and how the team schemes against their opponents.
“Yeah, we’ve accomplished a great deal, but we couldn’t do that without our teammates or anything like that. It’s no ‘I’ in team or anything like that. It’s always the group, the DB’s holding off the receivers, giving us an extra minute to get there to the rush,” explained Mercilus. “The d-linemen, the interior linemen grinding it out in the middle, allowing for the linebackers and outside linebackers to get up in there and make the tackles on the edges.”
Both Mercilus and Clowney showed their play making ability in the wildcard round and it says something about the coaching staff and organization to have top end players available to hold the defense together, even with the top defender in the league unavailable due to injury.
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