Losing linebacker Brian Cushing to a season ending knee injury is a major blow to the Houston Texans. However, it should not stop them from winning the AFC South or making a serious run at the Super Bowl.
The Texans have built a solid team. This is a group that lost two veteran quarterbacks in 2011 and won their division with rookie T.J. Yates. In the playoffs, Houston defeated the Cincinnati Bengals before losing on the road to the Baltimore Ravens.
Cushing will be replaced by seven year veteran Tim Dobbins. He will join a unit bolstered by one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Ends Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt can rush the passer and play the run. Nose tackle Shaun Cody is a good run stuffer and will allow Dobbins to roam free by taking up blockers.
The linebackers are still solid without Cushing. Bradie James will pair with Dobbins inside. Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin cover the outside. All three are athletic 3-4 specialists that can blitz or play the pass. In the running game they fill the gaps and are sure tacklers.
The secondary is not spectacular, but does not give up the big play. Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph man the corners. Danieal Manning and Glover Quinn are the safeties. This unit has given up six touchdowns and intercepted seven passes.
At the moment the Texans defense is ranked third in the league and first in the AFC.
With a 5-0 record Houston sits in first place by 2 1/2 games over the Indianapolis Colts. The Texans should have no problem winning the South as the Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are all going through the building stage. It should only take 10 wins to clinch the division and Houston is halfway there.
It is the playoffs where Cushing could be missed. There the Texans could face formidable opponents in the Ravens, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers. All four are led by quarterbacks with lots of playoff experience. There is also a chance of meeting the Denver Broncos and their quarterback Peyton Manning.
The guess here is that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will have Dobbins and the rest of the defense up to speed by then. Houston has 11 games and a bye week to jell. If they can clinch a first round bye then they will have 13 weeks to get ready for the playoffs.
In the NFL it is never good to lose a front line starter of Cushing’s caliber. Backups are asked to step up, but can realistically only step in. Dobbins will have to step in and give the Texans what he can. The good thing is that Houston’s defense is so good Dobbins will only have to do his job.
The loss of Cushing is a major blow, but the Texans should be right there in January fighting for a trip to New Orleans and Super Bowl XVLII.