The Houston Texans come out of their bye week with a 6-1 record, still alone atop the AFC (though 5-3 New England's 45-7 demolition of the Rams in London makes the Patriots suddenly look a little closer). Texans coach Gary Kubiak would say getting to this point has been a total team effort.
While that is true, credit the Bulls On Parade defense for keeping this team on track.
When linebacker Brian Cushing, the emotional leader of the defense, suffered a season ending injury against the New York Jets on Oct. 8, many wondered how that might affect the Texans defense. Well of course the D misses a player like Cushing, but the good news is this team has depth.
“The coaches are like, 'I don’t know if I can trust you in a game.' That kind of happened to me a little, but I showed the coaches today that I can play.”
“What we found out (is that) we can still play great defense and expect to do that the rest of the year,” Kubiak says. “Same thing we went through offensively, like I said, it’s about responding to adversity and this team really did.”
The adversity was getting blown out at home by the Green Bay Packers on national television in that Sunday nighter. The 43-13 bounceback blowout of the AFC contender Baltimore Ravens got the Texans back on track and now they get to host the 3-4 Bills on Sunday with a chance to move to 7-1 heading into that Sunday Night Football showdown with the Chicago Bears.
Houston drubbed Baltimore with the help of players that don’t exactly have household names. Tim Dobbins stepped in for the injured Cushing and stepped up. He had a good showing against the Ravens. Dobbins might not play with the same kind of passion as Cushing . . . few people do . . . but he’s certainly being productive. He did a good job of helping to limit Baltimore running back Ray Rice to 42 yards rushing.
“I’m just showing the guys that they can count on me. That I’m dependable and when it’s crunch time I’m ready to make a play.”
Now granted Dobbins had some help, but my point is while we know the game changers that started the season, there are others that round out this team. It is a good idea to keep your eyes on the players stepping in and quietly getting the job done as well.
Defensive back Alan Ball’s assist on that helped keep a punt from becoming a touchback was key. Whitney Mercilus downed it on the Raven 3-yard line. Two plays later, Mercilus got his first career sack. On the next play Conner Barwin sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the end zone for a safety. Barwin’s first sack of the season capped off a turn of events that basically changed the momentum of the game.
Mercilus, the Texans first round draft pick, says he found out during the Ravens week he would be rotating in early. “I knew the defense, it was having the coaches feel comfortable with me and place their trust in me and that I could go out there and execute and I could play fast,” Mercilus says.
Defensive coordinator Wade Philips says Mercilus looked good at practice. “We wanted to get him in the game a little bit more,” Phillips says. “The last time he played, he played a little better. He’s progressed. We thought it was time to get him in the game a little earlier.”
The rookie out of Illinois says the biggest difference from the college to NFL level is that players are smarter and more talented. He also talks about making the adjustment from being the go-to guy to proving himself again.
“Coming up to the next level you’re flustered a little bit, being a first year player of course you have your ups and downs at practice,” Mercilus says. “The coaches are like, 'I don’t know if I can trust you in a game.' That kind of happened to me a little, but I showed the coaches today that I can play.”
"He’s a smart player, he’s athletic. We know he’s talented. You’re just waiting for the bell to ring. The bell rang.”
Mercilus finished the game with one tackle, a sack, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. He says the chemistry with his teammates is getting better and it felt good to be in the mix.
“I’m just showing the guys that they can count on me," he says. "That I’m dependable and when it’s crunch time I’m ready to make a play.”
Mercilus' goal is to continue honing his craft and earn more opportunities to be on the field. The Ravens game was a good step in that direction.
"He’s done good things in practice," Phillips says. "He’s a smart player, he’s athletic. We know he’s talented. You’re just waiting for the bell to ring. The bell rang.”
Kim Davis is a journalist with more than two decades of experience covering sports, news and politics in television, radio and print. Kim does weekly "Chalk Talk" segments on Fox 26 Morning News. Follow her on Twitter @kimydavis.