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Packers sign former Texans outside linebacker Mercilus

The pass rusher has 3 sacks this season, as many as anyone on Green Bay roster
FILE - Houston Texans defensive end Whitney Mercilus walks off the field after a 31-21 loss to...
FILE - Houston Texans defensive end Whitney Mercilus walks off the field after a 31-21 loss to the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game in Cleveland, in this Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, file photo. The Green Bay Packers on Thursday, Oct. 21, signed veteran outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus in hopes of boosting not only their pass rush but their championship hopes. A first-round pick by the Houston Texans in 2012, Mercilus had 57 sacks in nine-plus seasons. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)(Ron Schwane | AP)
Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 5:14 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — With the Green Bay Packers having won five consecutive games despite several key injuries, they signed veteran outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus on Thursday in hopes of boosting not only their pass rush but their championship hopes.

On Wednesday, with the news of the possible addition of Mercilus, the team’s most recent championship was on Aaron Rodgers’ mind.

“This season is beginning to remind me a little bit of a season over a decade ago, where we’ve had a number of injuries and in the course of the season added certain pieces to the mix that ended up playing a big role down the line,” Rodgers said. “I think you guys can imagine what season I’m talking about, which is a good thing.”

That was the 2010 season, when the team won the Super Bowl despite having 16 players on injured reserve. The situation isn’t as dire this season, but the Packers have been hit hard by injuries, in general, and at outside linebacker, in particular, with Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith and backups Chauncey Rivers and Randy Ramsey on injured reserve.

The other veteran starter, Preston Smith, is dealing with an oblique injury. By the end of Sunday’s victory at Chicago, Green Bay was down to 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary, 2020 seventh-round pick Jonathan Garvin and La’Darius Hamilton, who was signed off Tampa Bay’s practice squad last month.

Enter the 31-year-old Mercilus, a first-round pick by the Houston Texans in 2012 who was released by the team on Tuesday.

Mercilus has 57 sacks in nine-plus seasons. That includes three this season but only one season of eight-plus sacks in his career. That was 2015, when he had 12.

With Za’Darius Smith questionable to return this season following back surgery, Green Bay is tied for ninth in the NFL with 14 sacks, but only tied for 19th with 53 pressures. The hope is Mercilus can bolster the pass rush and help offset the absence of All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander, who is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

“Everything I’ve heard about him as a man is A-plus,” coach Matt LaFleur said of Mercilus before Thursday’s practice. “I’ve been on teams that have gone against him and he’s always been a problem to play against.”

One of those games came in 2020, a 35-20 Packers victory in Houston in which Mercilus had one tackle. He had three tackles for losses when the teams met in Green Bay in 2016.

“He is a guy that you have to account for and he’s been doing it for a long time at a high level,” LaFleur said. “You usually don’t find those types of players in this juncture of the season.”

Mercilus is the latest veteran the Packers have signed to shore up a defense dealing with multiple injuries. The Packers signed linebacker Jaylon Smith two weeks ago, one day after the Dallas Cowboys released him.

The Packers are 5-1 heading into Sunday’s home game against Washington. Houston, meanwhile, is 5-17 since the start of last season and wanted to give Mercilus’ snaps to some younger players.

“Guys like that, they want to come to a winning team,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “When you go from 1-5 to 5-1, that’s a whole new outlook on life, I think. Now Jaylon, obviously, went from a good team to a good team but, for Whitney, I think that can breathe some life into a player like that, for sure.”

After Sunday’s game, Green Bay will face a series of challenging games.

That starts on a short week at Arizona on Thursday, followed by Kansas City, Seattle, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams before the Week 13 bye. In terms of total offense, the Chiefs are second, the Vikings are fifth, the Cardinals are seventh and the Rams are eighth.

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