STOP THE RUN!
The time is now for Whitney Mercilus to step up for the Texans
The Houston Texans defenders will have their hands full against the Minnesota Vikings, noon Sunday at NRG Stadium.
Both teams are in a "must-win" situation entering the game with distressing 0-3 marks.
Vikings offensive coordinator and former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak will look to use their vicious run attack (146.7 rushing yards per game) to assault the Texans frontline that has given up 160 or more rushing yards in each game this season.
History buffs will note the last time the Texans did this was 2008.
Much of the Vikings run workload will be on the back of Dalvin Cook, coming off a career performance, 181 yards on 22 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown.
Texans defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver has yet to muster a scheme to stop the run. The defense has allowed 4.49 yards per carry playing in 4-3 (base), and 6.19 yards per carry in nickel. These numbers demonstrate issues defending the run, with Whitney Mercilus as a prime culprit.
For the Texans to have a chance Sunday, it's time for Mercilus to step up and prove he's worth the 4-year 54 million dollar contact Bill O'Brien signed him to this past off-season. Against the Steelers last week, Mercilus failed to set the edge against the run, the third game in a row he's failed to get the job done. With only five solo tackles on the year and no quarterback hits, Texans fans' patience is running short with Mercilus.
It is clear that O'Brien is missing tackle D.J. Reader as part of the box that could slow a heavy run game. O'Brien obviously valued Mercilus over Reader, who left the Texans to sign an almost identical contract with the Bengals (Four-year 53 million).
One strategy that has been floated in preparing for Minnesota is loading the box with safety Justin Reid to shadow Dalvin Cook.
If the Texans had another veteran in the secondary this could be a workable proposal (cough cough Earl Thomas), but seriously they don't have another skill player in the secondary that can be trusted to defend deep pass routes.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is starting to develop chemistry with former national champion LSU burner Justin Jefferson. Cousins has connected with Jefferson 12 times for 245 yards and a touchdown in just three weeks with the rookie.
Jefferson and Pro-Bowl receiver Adam Thielen rank fourth and fifth in Pro Football Focus' Week 4 wide receiver grades. Texans cornerback Gareon Conley remains unavailable, but the young secondary has stayed consistent, ranking fourth in the league in efficiency against the deep ball. Regardless, Texans safety Justin Reid needs to hang back to lock down deep threats against Cousins and his core of receivers. Weaver should plan to have linebackers Zach Cunningham (team leader in tackles) and Bernardrick McKinney stack the box to contain Cook. Hopefully Mercilus shows up to the party.
Hopeful: Texans defensive end Charles Omenihu returned to practice Thursday after nursing a knee injury. Omenihu's return will be an essential cog to stopping the run and applying pressure on Cousins. Omenihu is tied with J.J. Watt for team leader in sacks (2).