March 20, 2018

Defensive Life Without Cushing

Next man up is easier said than done. It’s a catchy line and a good attitude to have, but not all players lost to injury are equal. Texans players recited that mantra often during the 2011 season as injuries to key players like Matt Schaub, Mario Williams, Andre Johnson and others kept piling up, and they were able to overcome those injuries to some extent, but that was definitely more the exception rather than what should be expected in that situation.

For the second year in a row, the Texans will face the second half of their schedule without the services of Pro-Bowl inside linebacker Brian Cushing. This injury, as we saw last season, will be nearly impossible to overcome. In 2011, the Texans barely missed Mario Williams with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed stepping up their level of play (combined for 15.5 sacks over 11 games). On the other side of the ball, Yates wasn’t able to equal the play of Schaub before his foot injury, but played efficiently enough to lead them to three wins as a starter including a playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Looking at it from an optimistic point of view, the Texans are better equipped to handle the loss of Cushing this season than last year. That’s not saying much, however, Barrett Ruud and Bradie James were a complete disaster. Joe Mays and Daryl Sharpton (assuming he’s healthy) will be an improvement over what they had last year, but the loss of Cushing will still be crippling for the Texans defense. Cushing is the captain of that defense. He’s their signal caller and he’s their emotional leader. J.J. Watt may be the most talented player on the defensive side of the ball, but they take their cues from Brian Cushing. You kill a snake by chopping off its head; the Texans defense lost its head in Kansas City.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the defensive numbers for the Texans last season with and then without Brian Cushing on the field.

Points per game allowed:

With Cushing – 14.6
Without Cushing – 23.4

Total yards allowed per game:

With Cushing – 275.6
Without Cushing – 344.9

Takeaways per game:

With Cushing – 2.2 (turnover forced in every game, multiple turnovers in three of five games)
Without Cushing – 1.6 (0 turnovers twice, multiple turnovers in just three of eleven games)

Sorry you had to read that Texans fans. I know that was depressing, but you can’t escape reality. I believe in stats and numbers as a good method of evaluation, but at times stats can be deceiving. That’s certainly the case in my opinion with the Texans being ranked first in the league in yards allowed this season but just 27th in points per game allowed. Of course, non-offensive touchdowns being given up off interceptions thrown and on special teams aren’t the fault of the defense, but the Texans defense isn’t close to being the number one unit in the league. Going a bit deeper past points and yards, the Texans also rank poorly on defense in third down percentage (20th), red zone percentage (31st), and takeaways (30th). Do you expect any of those numbers to improve with Cushing out of the starting lineup?

The Texans defense was already trending downwards; the Cushing injury just sped up the plunge. Three of their games (losses to the Rams, 49ers, and Ravens) were over by the fourth quarter so the Texans’ opponent was trying more to bleed the clock than gain yards. Had those games been closer, the Texans defense likely wouldn’t be ranked number one in yards allowed. I’m not expecting a drop-off to their 2010 level of play on defense, which was historically awful, but the bulls will be using crutches during their parade. Hold on Texans fans, it’s about to get rough.

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  1. […] getting as many looks in the defense will only benefit the Texans. His health is important to the Texans defense and without him there has been some drop off without […]

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