The Buffalo Bills came into Reliant Stadium averaging 24.4 points a game and 4th in the NFL in rushing offense. The Houston Texans defense held them in check, limiting them to 9 points and keeping them out of the end zone in a 21-9 week 9 victory. They harassed Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick all game, sacking him 3 times and recording 10 quarterback hits total.
As good as the Texans pass rush has been this season, a weapon has been unleashed the last two games that may make an already potent unit downright terrifying. That weapon is rookie 1st round pick Whitney Mercilus, who had an impact for the second consecutive game Sunday. Mercilus had 3 tackles, a sack, forced fumble and a tackle for a loss, displaying the playmaking capabilities that Wade Phillips gushed about when Houston drafted him 26th overall.
The sack and forced fumble matched the stat line Mercilus had in the Texans 43-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in week 7. After playing primarily on special teams in the season’s first six games, the rookie is taking advantage of his increased reps on defense. It is not a coincidence, as he is basically picking up where he left off in 2011 at the University of Illinois. As a junior, he led the NCAA in sacks with 16 and forced fumbles with 9. The 9 forced fumbles rank 2nd in FBS history.
After being named a unanimous consensus first-team All-American and winning the Ted Hendricks Award as the top DE in the nation, the Texans were thrilled to see Mercilus on the board when they picked 26th. With the man he was drafted to help replace on the opposing sideline, Mercilus had more of an impact in on the game in less action than Mario Williams. In his return to Houston, Williams finished with 5 tackles and 1 sack on the day.
With Buffalo driving and looking to make it a one score game in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick scrambled to his left to avoid the pass rush. Mercilus chased him down from behind, blindsiding him while simultaneously knocking the ball out of his hands. Safety Quintin Demps recovered the fumble at the Houston 38 yard line, and the Bills threat to get back into the game was ended. Mercilus also sacked Fitzpatrick on the game’s final play to put a cherry on top of a nice performance for he and the defense.
The ‘Bulls on Parade’ held the Bills without a touchdown, the second time this season they have kept their opponent out of the end zone. The previous occasion was in the season opening 30-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Mercilus was part of a front seven that kept Fitzpatrick on the run all day. Connor Barwin had a sack for the 2nd game in a row after being shut out the first six weeks and added 4 quarterback hits. J.J. Watt continued his MVP level play, recording his league leading 10.5 sack, 5 quarterback hits and an additional 2 more tackles for loss.
On a day when the offense was slow to get going and hurt itself with penalties, the solid play of the defense led the way to Houston finishing the first half of the season at 7-1. As they hit the mid point, the Texans defense ranks 2nd in rush defense, 4th in pass defense, and 3rd in overall defense. Despite the loss of leader and captain Brian Cushing in week 5, the Bulls on Parade has continued to march on.
With a new pass rushing menace in Mercilus now on the loose, this defense will cause even more problems for quarterbacks in the second half. This week will bring a homecoming of sorts for him, as the Texans travel to Illinois for a Sunday Night Football showdown. Jay Cutler and the 7-1 Chicago Bears are next on the list, and Mercilus and the defense will look to show them no mercy in the Windy City.