Undercut by a Jets offensive lineman in the second quarter, Houston star linebacker Brian Cushing went down with what is believed to be a torn ACL, according to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain.
Brian Cushing appears to be done for season with a torn ACL. Tim Dobbins replaced him. What a loss for the Texans' defense.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) October 9, 2012
Though the team ranks fourth in opposing passing yards and eighth in opposing rushing yards per game, those figures have come against a terribly weak schedule. That certainly won't be the case against the Ravens and Packers, both of which boast high-powered offensive attacks.
Nonetheless, it's what Cushing's injury means in the long term that could derail the Texans' hopes for a Lombardi Trophy.
As the leader and unquestioned soul of the defense, Cushing's loss is not simply one of personnel. Teams lose star players and make runs all the time. That's just how football works.
However, Cushing's injury is essentially the equivalent of the Baltimore Ravens losing an in-his-prime Ray Lewis (albeit at a lower skill level). Almost everything the Texans do defensively is predicated on the fact that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has complete trust in Cushing and fellow inside linebacker Bradie James.
The presence of James and Cushing allows outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed the freedom to roam and rush the passer off the edge without fear of neglecting coverage or run defense.
All of that schematic freedom is essentially thrown out the window going forward.
Granted, the Texans have weathered seemingly crushing blows in the past. Last season, star defensive end Mario Williams went down with a torn pectoral muscle, and the team still thrived—mostly thanks to J.J. Watt's emergence.
That won't be the case this season.
Replacing Cushing on Monday night was Tim Dobbins, a seventh-year veteran who may be the absolute definition of "serviceable backup." Playing with three teams in his career, Dobbins' best career tackle total was 57 in 2008, and he struggles mightily in coverage schemes.
With the Texans 5-0 and playing in possibly the worst division in the NFL, it's highly unlikely that Cushing's injury keeps the team out of the playoffs. Already ahead 2.5 games in the AFC South, it would take an epic collapse for the race to get even remotely close.
What's more interesting is how Houston fares over the next two weeks. If Phillips is able to dial up a scheme to fend off Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco, then we can hold off on pressing the panic button.
For now, though, it's looking like an injury might derail the Texans' Super Bowl hopes for the second consecutive season.