Whitney Mercilus returns to menace for Texans D

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When the Texans shipped Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle in exchange for two backups and a mid-round pick, the question became: How would Houston replace Clowney's production?

Through two weeks, Whitney Mercilus has answered those queries resoundingly.

The 29-year-old pass rusher has brought fury to the Texans edge, compiling three sacks, an interception, and two forced fumbles already this season. With Clowney gone, Mercilus gets to feast in the role opposite J.J. Watt.

"Now I get to go ahead and go out there and go tee it up," Mercilus said following Sunday's win over the Jaguars, via The Athletic. "Do what I do best: get after the quarterback, cause turnovers and all that. It's been fun."

Mercilus was the obvious beneficiary of the Clowney trade and being freed to wreak havoc play after play, as he's proven he still has the skillset despite two down seasons, which included working back from injury.

"We've always known Whitney is a rusher," Watt said. "He's great off the edge. He can do different things off the edge. He's back in his natural position this year, and I think you're seeing the results of when he's in his proper place."

One player won't replace Clowney, but Mercilus' performances to start the season recalls to mind his impressive play during the 2015 and 2016 seasons (19.5 combined sacks). For context, through two weeks, Pro Football Focus ranked Mercilus its sixth-best edge defender in the entire NFL.

Playing out the final year of his contract, a massive season could mean one more big payday for the veteran pass rusher.

"At the end of the day, the biggest thing is they always base you off production," Mercilus said when asked about his expiring contract. "So, I've just got to make sure my numbers are up there."

So far, so good.

If Mercilus continues to be a menace in the backfield, and the Texans take a wide-open AFC South, that payday should come. With Watt's quiet start to the season, Houston needs Mercilus to keep making noise.

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