When it comes to defense, the whole has always been greater than the sum of its parts. If an offense loses its star running back, quarterback, a receiver or even a great lineman, the whole unit's complexion can change. However, on defense, it's easier for other players to step up their game and carry on without any one player.
The Texans lost Cushing for the season to a torn ACL, but they should be able to remain an elite defense. These players must find a way to keep this defense relevant.
When looking for the man who will most directly be charged with replacing what Cushing brought to this Texans defense, fans should look no further than Bradie James.
James may not have the intensity or immense athleticism that Cushing brought to the table, but he does have experience. The 31-year-old James is in his 10th year in the league after spending nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.
In Cushing, the Texans are losing their most sure tackler, and James is the most likely to fill that role. With five seasons of 100-plus tackles, James played the role of run-stuffing linebacker in Dallas for the better part of a decade, and he should be able to fill that role for Houston without Cushing.
Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell
In a 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is one of the most important players on the field.
The position hardly ever shows up on the stat sheet, but the scheme simply doesn't work without a dominant nose tackle in the middle that can play both A-gaps and free up the inside linebackers. The Texans don't have your prototypical nose tackle like Vince Wilfork, but they have two capable nose tackles that rotate in Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell.
Cody and Mitchell are considered a bit undersized at around 300 pounds, but both have done a great job this season of taking on double-teams and allowing Cushing to roam free.
Without Cushing, their job becomes even more important, as they will need to allow the linebacking corps the same freedom that Cushing enjoyed.
Talking about J.J. Watt is the cool thing to do this year, and it's easy to see why.
He's been a freak this season.
Even before Cushing's injury, it was evident that Watt is the best player on this defense and a clear reason that the Texans were willing to watch Mario Williams walk this offseason.
The Wisconsin product is currently second in the league in sacks with 7.5 and third in the league in passes defended with eight. He's been a disruptive nightmare for opposing offenses and one of the reasons that the Texans defense has been elite this season.
Watt is the type of defender that forces offenses to change their game plan to adapt to his abilities. If the Texans defense is to remain elite without Cushing, it will need Watt to continue his excellent season.