The Houston Texans won their second straight AFC South title and set a franchise record with 12 regular season wins in 2012, but they again bowed out of the playoffs in the Divisional Round to the team that went on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Expectations are certainly high again for this season, and Houston’s offseason moves addressed some clear need areas they had.
When it comes to naming the most irreplaceable player on the Texans’ roster, there are plenty of potential options. Quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson headline the offensive side of the ball, while defensive end J.J. Watt, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is a worthy choice as well. But for me another player stands out, and that player is linebacker Brian Cushing.
Cushing has had an up and down first four seasons of his career, winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2009 with 134 total tackles (tied for fifth in the league) and four sacks. Then he was suspended for the first four games of 2010 due to a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing substances policy, and with the Texans moving to a 3-4 defense Cushing became an inside linebacker for the 2011 season. He made the move seamlessly though, totaling 114 tackles and four sacks on his way to being named Second Team All-NFL by the AP.
Houston had one of the league’s top defenses again in 2012, finishing in the top 10 in total defense (323.2 yards per game-seventh), rush defense (97.5 yards per game-seventh) and scoring defense (20.7 points per game-tied for ninth). But they suffered a drop-off in the 13 games (including the playoffs) that Cushing missed after suffering a torn left ACL in Week 5 against the New York Jets, allowing over 400 total yards and more than 30 offensive points five times in that span. They did face some top offenses in that time, including the Green Bay Packers in the first full game Cushing missed and the New England Patriots twice, but a poor performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11 (37 points and 458 yards of offense allowed) pointed to how much his presence was missed.
Cushing has received full medical clearance for training camp, but it’s safe to say he will be eased back into action with an eye toward being ready to go for Week 1. If the Texans hope to make a run to the Super Bowl, they will surely need their defensive signal caller healthy and in top form.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.