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Texans OLB Whitney Mercilus has been marvelous in playoffs

HOUSTON -- For as well as Houston Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has played for the past two seasons, he has managed to step up even more in the playoffs.

In his past two playoff games -- a victory over the Oakland Raiders on Saturday and the Texans’ loss last season to the Kansas City Chiefs -- Mercilus has five sacks, six quarterback hits and 15 combined tackles, including six for a loss.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien knows this success hasn’t come out of nowhere. He said he has seen how hard Mercilus has worked to get to this level.

“Whitney is a very hardworking guy,” said O’Brien, whose team will continue postseason play against the Patriots on Saturday. “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. 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].

“The guy is very meticulous about how he prepares, and he’s been that way since we got here.”

Mercilus was the Texans’ first-round pick in 2012, and though he played well in his first three seasons, he broke out in ‘15 with 12 sacks, 52 tackles, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during the regular season. He formed one of the NFL’s elite pass-rushing duos with three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.

O’Brien called Mercilus one of the team’s best players, something he has developed into partly thanks to the tough-love approach given to him by the team’s defensive coaching staff. Mercilus, himself, said he is focused each day on elevating his game and trying to understand the game more than he did the day before.

“We were pretty tough on Whitney when we first came here because we saw a lot of potential with the guy,” O’Brien said. “He took the hard coaching, he took it to heart, and now he’s obviously one of our best players.

“He affects the game. He’s a disruptive guy. He’s a guy that we move around quite a bit, and he’s done a nice job for us.”

And though his numbers were down this season -- he had 7.5 sacks -- he and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney lead one of the best front sevens in the NFL.

Teammates complemented Mercilus’ arsenal of moves, something he said he is currently working to improve by watching other players at his position and seeing if he can emulate them on the practice field. Left tackle Duane Brown, who sees a lot of Mercilus on the practice field, said the fifth-year man out of Illinois plays with great leverage and speed off the ball. Brown has seen Mercilus’ improvement since being drafted in 2012.

“He’s really improved with his handwork and keeping your hands off of him, being able to dip around a corner and not think,” Brown said. “Once you start to play for his speed too much, he has some surprising strength. He’s able to knock guys off their feet a little bit.”

For Mercilus, it’s no coincidence that two of his best games in the past two seasons have come in the playoffs.

“Everybody starts at 0-0 when the postseason comes around,” Mercilus said. “We understand what’s at stake. Everybody’s intensity has to be raised that much higher because it’s all or nothing. Whoever loses is going home.”