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Redskins @ Texans: Under the Radar Player - Brian Cushing

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Although Cushing is a household name and has proven to be a great player in the NFL, many people forget to mention him when talking about the Houston Texans. Two serious injuries have sidelined him for the last two seasons and as such he has flown under the radar outside of Houston. Let’s refresh our memories with this defensive force.

Bob Levey

Background

Cushing was drafted by the Houston Texans with the 15th pick in the 2009 draft and went on to have one of the best rookie seasons for a defensive player in NFL history.  To put into context what he did that year, he tied with Ray Lewis in the AFC with 133 tackles, 4 sacks, 10 pass deflections, 4 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.  Not bad in your first year, however it is worth noting that Cushing was playing as an outside linebacker and this will certainly have put him in a position to make more plays and bolster the stats above.

His second year started poorly after he was suspended for four games after testing positive for banned substances.  His stats went on to take a downturn this year.

In 2011 Cushing was moved inside as the team transitioned to a 3-4 defense, but this didn't stop him having a stellar season and being voted team MVP.

Unfortunately Cushing has not been able to build on this amazing form. He suffered a season ending knee injury early in the 2012 campaign, and then repeated this with a horrible leg break early in the 2013 season.  The Texans will be desperately hoping that Cushing can remain healthy this year and also hoping that he can return to the player he was earlier in his career.

If you can't remember what Cushing can do, watch this video on Battle Red.

Skills

As the Mike linebacker Cushing is the QB of the Texans' defense.  He is responsible for on the field adjustments and defensive audibles prior to the snap.  Cushing has a high motor, is a natural leader, not just vocally, but also in his on pitch performance.

As a modern day inside linebacker, Cushing has everything you would look for.  He is tall, physical, strong, fast. He is good in coverage, a great tackler and can blitz the passer.

What to Expect

Might sound strange, but how Cushing will be used will also depend on other factors.  Firstly we are yet to see how Crennel will balance his 2 gap 3-4 scheme with the likes of Watt and Clowney on the field, who are players you don't want to anchor on the line.  If Watt and Clowney are both set free and the Texans front is able to get adequate pass rush without extra bodies, Cushing will be allowed to play more in coverage.  In which case he would come face to face with Reed.  That is a key battle as we all know how important Reed is to RGIII as a trusted passer.  If that pressure is not getting home then Cushing will be asked to blitz more often and Reed may go up against SS D.J. Swearinger, or other linebackers. I fancy that much more.

The other aspect of Cushing's game is run support, and this is something he does well.  I imagine that the expected pass rush from the Texans will force the Redskins to use Morris a lot to help with down and distance. Cushing is mobile enough to cover gaps and deliver run stopping hits, plus he can move horizontally if we want to play outside zones, screens, tosses or sweeps.

On the flip side, we surely must expect some rust?  Two serious knee injuries and a lot of missed time do not get swept away that easily.  Will Cushing trust his body and still throw himself into hits?  Will he still have the athletic ability to cover the field?  Do the rest of the team still see him as the natural leader of this group?  All things to watch out for on Sunday.

Fun Facts

I quite liked this message board that Texans fans have created that plays off that whole Chick Norris internet meme.   My favourite examples were:

Cushing doesn't have a "ctrl" button on his computer because he is always in control.

Brian Cushing doesn't wear a condom because there is no such thing as protection from Brian Cushing

Brian Cushing is the reason Waldo is hiding

Brian Cushing once kicked a horse in the chin, it's decendants are known as Giraffes