QB Aaron Rodgers and the high-flying Green Bay offense may not have reached cruising altitude yet, but it is a safe bet they are better equipped to exploit the Cushing-less Texans Sunday night than Mark Sanchez and the Jets were able to do in Week Five.
It won’t get easier after that, with Ray Rice and the Ravens coming to town, followed by the Bills’ two-headed dual-threat backfield and a Bears club that loves utilizing RB Matt Forté and WR Brandon Marshall underneath in the receiving game in Weeks Nine and 10, respectively.
Cushing is a tremendous run stuffer, and his physicality and emotional style of play will be big losses for the Texans. But we hear an even bigger obstacle to overcome will be Cushing’s absence in Houston’s dime package.
Veteran Tim Dobbins, who steps into the starting lineup in place of Cushing, is a very physical run defender with solid experience in coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme. He isn’t as gifted against the run as Cushing, but the drop-off isn’t nearly as significant as it is in coverage, where Dobbins and fellow inside ‘backer Bradie James, whose best days are clearly behind him, really struggle. Houston will no longer have the luxury of hiding their deficiencies in coverage, though.
The rangy and instinctive Cushing never came off the field. We hear the plan is to rotate Dobbins and James to fill Cushing’s dime-package role. Second-year player Mister Alexander could eventually figure into the mix, as well as veterans Jesse Nading and the recently acquired Barrett Ruud.
Most league observers think the Texans are still plenty deep, with enough stud defenders to overcome the loss of Cushing. The fact that the team dealt with adversity so masterfully a season ago only strengthens that belief. But the area where Cushing’s absence will be felt most, we hear, is trying to cover running backs and tight ends in the middle of the field — an area where the drop-off from Cushing to the Texans’ other options is considerable.