Mercilus stops thinking for best game yet

Mercilus stops thinking for best game yet
November 29, 2013, 7:00 am
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As the Texans’ losses began to pile up this season, second-year linebacker Whitney Mercilus began to press a little more.

And a little more.

The 6-4, 258-pound Mercilus so desperately wanted to make a big play, he began to over-think things on the field. Instead of letting his instincts and athleticism take over, he began to make mistakes and think about those mistakes and make more mistakes and think about those mistakes.

Until last Sunday. Against the Jaguars, Mercilus stopped thinking and started playing.

How did he do it?

“Basically, kind of like an F-it attitude,” Mercilus said through a chuckle at his locker on Wednesday. “The coaches they told me ‘just stop thinking and just go’ and I was like ‘alright. Cool.’ Just go and go get the ball and basically that’s what I did.”

And it worked.

Mercilus played his best game of the season and perhaps of his career against the Jags. After four straight games of negative grades, ProFootballFocus handed Mercilus a plus-4.1, the highest grade of his two seasons.

“We told him to let it go, basically,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “Whit is a guy that tries to do everything perfect all the time. He gets upset with himself if it isn’t. Those kinds of personalities need to let it go sometimes. They just need to go and play and not worry about anything. That’s what we asked him to try and do.

“After the ballgame, he said that’s what he did. He made a couple of mistakes and I told him, ‘Hey, those are mine. If you’ll just play as hard as you can play, we’ll practice you and get those mistakes right. But if you’ll play as hard as you can play and not worry about if this guy goes here and then what I do when this one.’ He knows what to do and he did it well last week. I think it was one of his best games.”

Mercilus considers himself a perfectionist, which led to much of the over-thinking. He’s that way on and off the field, so it’s not so easy to flip the switch.

“That’s my problem,” he said. “I want to be perfect but in all actuality, nothing it perfect. Do the best you can, but nothing’s perfect.”

Mercilus said a big part of getting past his over-thinking problem was relinquishing the fear of making a mistake. Football players make mistakes but they can overcome them throughout a game by playing hard, he explained.

Before Mercilus joined the media in the locker room on Wednesday, he had a conversation about mistakes with his defensive coordinator. “If it’s a run and they run up your gap, it’s OK,” Mercilus said, relaying the message from Phillips. He said he made a couple mistakes against the Jaguars but instead of freezing, he played through them.

This is the second year in a row Mercilus has been guilty of over-thinking and it’s gotten in his way twice. But this year’s problem was different than last year’s. In 2012, he was a rookie, so the over-thinking was based on trying to learn the play-book as quickly with as much depth as possible. He was learning how to be a professional.

“Over-thinking this year,” he said, “was just trying to do way too much that’s out of my control instead of doing what I need to do.”

Now, Mercilus thinks the problem’s fixed. Although, he’s trying not to think about it.