Anticipating the pregame theme of the Texans linebacker corps each week has become almost as intriguing as the game itself.
We have seen this colorful crew walk the corridors of NRG Stadium in full costume as the Ninja Turtles, Mortal Combat and prior to the recent handling of the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, the group showed up as S.W.A.T. The Black Ops, decked out in all black and matching vests.
“It’s camaraderie and keeps the game fun,” inside linebacker Tyrell Adams said after the Texans stunning 28-22 win over the previously one-loss Patriots. “It keeps it exciting every week.”
As fun and animated as the group can be off the field – including Zach Cunningham, Benardrick McKinney, Brennan Scarlett, Peter Kalambayi, Jacob Martin, Whitney Mercilus and Adams – it’s far more relentless and punishing on it. This could be the strongest linebacker corps from the top to bottom in Texans franchise history.
The unit is powerful and physical enough to fill the gaps and stuff the run, while it’s athletic enough to get after the quarterback in base defense and in blitz packages. Just ask future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, who had virtually no time to think as he was harassed and hit early and often in their primetime Sunday Night Football clash.
Brady was sacked three times, pressured 12 times and hit quite often as he was held in check until picking up some late, meaningless touchdowns.
“A quarterback like [Brady] doesn’t want to get hit and gets him frustrated with his line, allowing guys like us to get going,” said Mercilus, who is the veteran of the Texans linebacker group. “We were on him all night, forced the ball out and made him make some bad throws and things of that nature. It feels good.”
Texans coach Bill O’Brien is definitely feeling good about what he sees out of his linebackers of late, especially as they head into the final month of the regular season with the AFC South division and playoff positioning on the line.
“The linebackers have played well all year long, including ‘B Mack’ (McKinney) and Cunningham,” O’Brien said. “We have a good front, decent depth there. Those guys played hard [against the Patriots]. It wasn’t always pretty. They gave up some plays here and there. They played hard, they played the next play, which is what we need to keep doing.”
The linebackers credit much of their swagger this season to their unity and creativity as a group. With the opponent and challenge ahead in mind, Cunningham helps mastermind the costume theme for each week. The decision is made Friday and the gear is at the team hotel on Saturday.
The S.W.A.T. gear seemed appropriate considering the Texans hadn’t beat Brady and the Patriots since 2010 and only for the second time in franchise history. So, the win was needed for the standings and confidence as the postseason mentality sets in.
“We are some bad a—-,” Martin said. “We are swagged out.”