After a season that saw them adopt the motto “Next Man Up,” the Houston Texans avoiding that feeling for the first month of the 2012 season. But what most of the viewing nation saw last night was that feeling going up in smoke when All-Pro linebacker Brian Cushing was on the ground and writhing in pain.
Just like that, his season was over and the Houston Texans defense immediately fell from arguably the best in the league to a likely top 10-12 defense. I realize that some may say that’s being a bit pessimistic and others are saying that’s like complaining about having too much money.
Houston was already very thin at linebackers that can play the inside and losing a player like Brian Cushing, who is the captain of the Houston defense, is easily the most significant season-ending injury to any team with Super Bowl aspirations in 2012.
The play occurred early in the 2nd quarter of the Monday Night Football match up with the Jets in New York in which Matt Slauson got away with an illegal hit, also known as clipping, and Cushing immediately fell to the ground in agony, grabbing his left knee. For anyone who has seen this injury happen or has had it before, you knew exactly what it was even before the results of Tuesday’s MRI were revealed.
Some were optimistic when Cushing walked off on his own power after the injury, but, again, for those who know anything about the injury know, you can walk on an ACL tear. As long as you don’t have to walk far or anything other than straight ahead.
With that one play, regardless of the outcome of the game, 5-0 feels like little to cheer about in Houston. As soon as Cushing came out of the game, New York was able to move the ball unlike any other offense had on Houston all season. You may think 286 yards isn’t that big of a deal, but it was given up to a Jets team that had been painfully terrible on offense all season and it was far above Houston’s season average up to that point. And it doesn’t exactly get easier with Green Bay coming to Reliant next week.
The fact that it was an illegal hit has been the main talking point this far around the league by both the media and the players. In fact, Clay Matthews, Cushing’s college teammate, tweeted the following immediately after Cushing left the field:
It’s hard to argue with him. Why make this huge deal about player safety and then enforce it only on the offensive side of the ball?
The talk now is of all the options Houston can use to replace Cushing and I just scoff at some of the ludicrous calls to local radio. Some have them moving players who are defensive ends or outside linebackers to the inside, which anyone who knows more about football than playing Madden knows, doesn’t work.
The simple answer to that question is that you don’t replace players like Cushing in the middle of the season. You have to have everyone else step it up a little bit more. The “next man up” mantra is good for team unity and what not, but it usually doesn’t maintain a full 3.4 of the rest of the season.
This is a tough one to overcome and it could be the difference in Houston playing their final game in New Orleans or Baltimore this season.