The Houston Texans' Super Bowl hopes took a major blow this week as the emerging franchise prepares to face a nightmare scenario on the most critical side of the ball.
According to Nick Scurfield of the team's official website, starting linebacker Brian Cushing has been ruled out for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in Week 5's win over the New York Jets.
This was Gary Kubiak's reaction to the news, per Scurfield:
(It's) a big blow to our team. You feel bad for Brian because he works so hard and is playing so well. He’s going to be missed, but we’ve got to have guys pick it up around him and got to find a way to move forward. We’re just all disappointed for him.
"It's a big blow" is exactly right. Cushing is currently the team's leading tackler after five weeks and has finished the year as Houston's leading tackler in two of the last three seasons. The fourth-year player also recorded an interception and a forced fumble this season before going down on Monday night.
Although the Texans still boast talented defensive players like J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin, Johnathan Joseph and Brooks Reed, Cushing was the leader and the brain of Houston's No. 1 asset, its defense. The Texans are still formidable on that side of the ball, but not nearly as threatening with Tim Dobbins stepping in for their fearless leader.
Dobbins has just 223 career tackles in seven NFL seasons. Cushing recorded more than half as many tackles (114) just last season with Houston.
It won't take long for fans to notice Cushing's absence in Houston's second line of defense. The former USC Trojan has been an extremely versatile player for Gary Kubiak's squad. His strength in stopping the run and awareness against the pass make him one of the league's most gifted defenders.
Every championship team needs that dominant force at inside linebacker. The New York Giants had the underrated Michael Boley in 2011, the Green Bay Packers had Desmond Bishop in 2010 and the New Orleans Saints had Jonathan Vilma in 2009.
Unfortunately, neither Tim Dobbins nor Bradie James is capable of being that guy. James' days of recording 100-plus tackles in a season are over. He recorded just 44 in 16 games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, and is averaging just over four per game this season. Obviously, the same applies to Dobbins, who has never tallied more than 57 tackles in a season.
Brian Cushing could have been that force for Houston in 2012. At age 25, Cushing is the same age that Ray Lewis was when he led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2000. The time is now for Houston. This was supposed to be the season the Texans reached the top of the NFL mountain.
Instead, they will have to rely on J.J. Watt and others to continue to play out of their minds while staying healthy up and through the postseason.
Before Monday night, the Texans had all the pieces to win the franchise's first Super Bowl title. But after losing Brian Cushing for the season to a torn ACL, they are in danger of falling short of their ultimate goal for the second straight season.
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