Next Man Up for Cushing-less Texans
Protecting and pressuring the QB is key
By Barrett Walton, 12:18PM, Sat. Oct. 13, 2012
When Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans he poured over game film of the putrid 2010 defense. What he saw was a poorly coached defense with incredible athletic ability and this one guy, Brian Cushing, who was a “holy phenom."
Cushingʼs incredible effort and intensity is what Phillips modeled this entire unit after. Now that unit is one of the best in the NFL and for the rest of 2012, Cushing will have to watch his model play football. Cushing suffered a torn ACL in Monday nightʼs contest against the New York Jets. While I was personally disappointed by this, after all, Cushing is my favorite Texan, Tim Dobbins was the next man up and the defense kept right on dominating.
Houston is well versed in the practice of losing their best players. Last year Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and finally, Matt Schaub all went down with significant injuries. All they did was keep on winning. The 2012 Houston Texans will be defined by their consistency and losing Cushing, the maniacal middle linebacker will not slow this team down but it will cause them to face a new set of challenges defensively.
Cushing was the lone linebacker on the field in passing situations. What made him so effective was that he could play the run or the pass with equal effectiveness. That will be the biggest loss. Cushing could do it all. One man who couldnʼt do it all, in fact, he couldnʼt do it at all, was Trindon Holliday.
The pint-sized return specialist was released this week to make room for an extra linebacker in Cushingʼs absence. I was relieved to hear that the Holliday experiment was over. While I donʼt believe that Holliday was cut because of his poor performance, I do believe he was the last man on the roster in a luxury position as a specialist. If not for Cushingʼs injury, I think Holliday would have remained on the team until another roster spot was needed. Gary Kubiak has a patience that aggravates some fans but should be considered on of his strengths as a decision-maker.
Keshawn Martin will get the nod in Hollidayʼs place. Martin was an effective returner at Michigan State and the Texans seem to have great confidence in his ability at the pro level. Though we havenʼt seen him in live game action, he has been practicing as a returner since the beginning of camp and I would expect him to perform well. The blocking in the return game has to improve for anyone to be effective with the ball in their hands, but unlike Holliday, I think Martin will keep the ball in his hands.
Arian Foster seems to get more carries each week and Kubiak believes that the more Foster carries the ball, the better he gets. On Monday Foster carried the ball to the tune of 152 yards on 29 attempts. Will he get that many touches Sunday night?
Going up against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and a very impressive pass rush, I expect Houstonʼs game plan to be similar to the way they approached the Broncos and Peyton Manning. I expect Kubiak to be more aggressive in his game plan this week to make sure that the Texans stay on top of the dangerous Green Bay Packers.
When the matchups are there, Houston can play aggressively and score quickly. But they wonʼt force it. Andre Johnson made a big play against Denver as did Kevin Walter, because the coverage dictated it. If Dom Capers – the Packers defensive coordinator and former head coach of the Texans – chooses to play it safe with two safeties for much of the game, Kubiak will keep the offense focused on running and short routes.
How well will the right side of the offensive line hold up against Clay Mathews? Derrick Newton and Ryan Harris will have their hands full at right tackle on Sunday night. Mathews has exceptional quickness off the line of scrimmage. Add great strength and nonstop effort and he could wreak havoc on the Texans down field passing game. If Mathews is able to get significant pressure on Schaub, Houston will need to lean on Foster and the tight ends much more heavily as quick-read options.
Fortunately, Houstonʼs scheme is designed to slow down guys like Mathews by misdirection. Houston demands such respect in the run game that aggressive players like Mathews can be somewhat neutralized by their added responsibilities to maintain their containment on the backside of the play. If the right tackles struggle, it could seriously effect Schaubʼs effectiveness. He has proven that with a decent amount of time he can play near-perfect football. Under pressure, like any quarterback, his mistakes increase. Over the last two and a half seasons, Schaubʼs pocket awareness has really risen to a new level. Monday night was no different. Schaub showed very impressive pocket awareness under pressure moving in the pocket to avoid pressure and making accurate throws to his backs when he was faced with a defender in his grill. I expect Sundayʼs game to be close and the winner to be the team that pressures the opposing quarterback the most.
Houston 27 - Green Bay 24
[Barrett Walton is the managing editor for Texans Bull Blog. Click here for news, analysis, and commentary on the Texans.]