Instant assistance? Packers might count on Whitney Mercilus

He could jump into action right away, just like Howard Green in 2010

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LB Whitney Mercilus

GREEN BAY – Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers caught everyone's attention this week when he compared this season to Green Bay's championship one of 11 years ago.

He was referencing the injuries the team has suffered, and the veteran acquisitions brought in midseason to keep everything moving in the right direction.

The latest addition is former second-team All-Pro Whitney Mercilus, a 10th-year pass rusher released by Houston about 48 hours before he arrived in Green Bay with a new lease on the twilight of his career.

Mercilus was signing his contract and going through his physical while some Thursday morning meetings were taking place. He did make it out to the practice field, and he's taking a crash course in coordinator Joe Barry's defense to learn as much, as quickly, as he can.

The Packers aren't ruling out the possibility he could play Sunday vs. Washington at Lambeau Field despite the limited prep time.

With Za'Darius Smith out, Preston Smith is questionable on the injury report and in danger of missing a game for the first time in his career. The only edge rushers behind Rashan Gary are a young Jonathan Garvin and even younger La'Darius Hamilton. So Mercilus could be looked to for a pass-rush boost vs. WFT. He does have 57 career sacks, including three this season.

"We'll see what we get," Mercilus said after Thursday's practice, regarding the coaches' plans for him. "I'm just hoping to go out there, make some plays, be very disruptive to give this team a chance to win every single game."

The playbook cramming and potential instantaneous debut for Mercilus is reminiscent of one specific acquisition from that 2010 team – defensive lineman Howard Green, who was a waiver claim.

There's a lot that separates Green from Mercilus. Green was a sixth-round draft pick, not a first-rounder. He was a journeyman – the Packers were his fifth team in less than a decade in the league – not an all-time great from a single franchise. He was a run stuffer, not a pass rusher. He was not a previous All-Pro.

But just like Mercilus, Green arrived mid-week, just a few days before a game. In Green's case, it was the Packers' Halloween road trip to face the New York Jets (the team that had just released him, coincidentally).

Green got in a couple of practices and then spent the night before the game in the team's New Jersey hotel with defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, setting up chairs in a conference room to go over different alignments and gap assignments. The Packers needed him to fill in the next day for an injured Ryan Pickett, the anchor of Dom Capers' 3-4 front against the run.

Green didn't do anything dynamic in his Packers debut, getting credit for a couple of tackles in a 9-0 shutout of the Jets. But his presence factored significantly into New York's struggles to run the ball, as Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for only 54 yards and the Jets' running backs collectively had just 97 yards on the ground on 27 attempts, a paltry 3.6 average.

On Sunday, the Packers face a young quarterback in Washington's Taylor Heinicke who has been sacked just five times this season in well over 200 drop-backs. With the playbook now fully electronic on a personal tablet, Mercilus probably doesn't need chairs in a conference room to figure out how to aid the pass rush on super-short notice the same way Green helped the run defense 11 years ago.

Green's story, of course, culminated in one of the biggest plays of Super Bowl XLV, when his pressure up the middle and contact with Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger's arm contributed to Nick Collins' pick-six late in the first quarter.

Mercilus' thoughts are on that type of track. He made it clear he chose to come to Green Bay over other opportunities in order to chase a championship.

He made five playoff appearances with Houston but never advanced beyond the divisional round, before the Texans hit really hard times last season and embarked on a rebuild.

With no time to waste, his new story could get underway, right away.

"I'm just grateful to be here, been accepted with open arms, love it," Mercilus said. "The energy, it's amazing. Honestly it's like, it just pumps new life (into you).

"I feel revitalized. The youngness in me is back because (in) a new environment, you feel the vibe of the team. It's not heavy. It's not a heavy cloud.

"For them to say, 'We want you here,' meant a lot. As far as in my career right now, to have a chance to go for gold, man, it's really a blessing."

Alternate success: The Packers will wear their newest alternate uniforms vs. Washington, a classic '50s historical look with green jerseys, green pants and gold numbers.

Since Green Bay began wearing alternate uniforms on a regular basis in 2010, the team is 7-2. Rodgers is actually 7-1, having missed the 2017 game vs. Baltimore due to injury.

The Packers went 4-0 in their first historical uniform, beating the 49ers (2010), Rams ('11), Browns ('13) and Eagles ('14). They did not wear the uniform in 2012.

They went 3-2 in their next alternate version, beating the Chargers ('15), Bills ('18) and Broncos ('19) but losing to the Cowboys ('16) and Ravens ('17). The Packers did not wear an alternate uniform in 2020.

Home cooking: The Packers beat Washington on the road in the 2015 NFC Wild Card game, but that was a rarity in this series.

Only once since the turn of the century has the road team won a regular-season meeting between these teams.

Since 2001, the Packers have won five meetings at Lambeau Field, while Washington has won three times in its home stadium. The only road team to triumph in the regular season came in 2004, when Green Bay won at Washington.

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