From the rubble of the 2013 season, the rebuild of the Houston Texans was going to begin with the construction of a fearsome front seven on defense.
You already had a built-in starting point with the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt. From there, you unleash a nuclear pass rush by using the first overall pick in the draft on "generational talent" Jadeveon Clowney to play outside linebacker. And then, with the return of inside linebacker Brian Cushing from his knee injury, the middle of the field would have its own (potential) Pro Bowler to handle things.
It was all gonna be so awesome. Or so the story goes. But these knees. These goddamn knees.
First, it was Clowney tearing a meniscus in his right knee
possibly as a result of playing on the treacherous turf at NRG Stadium. He underwent a procedure to clean up the meniscus, and should be returning any week now, according to Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. This weekend against the Titans, Clowney is reportedly a "game time decision."
Unfortunately, just as Clowney is ready to return, it appears as though Cushing will need some time off to allow the soreness in his twice-surgically repaired left knee to subside. Courtesy of Pro Football Talk:
Per a league source, Cushing will miss at least one game to rest his knee, which has been bothering him for the last two weeks. The source says Cushing hasn't been close to 100 percent, and that the knee has been drained a few times recently.
It's the same knee in which Cusing tore the ACL last year.
The goal is to give Cushing some rest in the hopes that the knee will improve. With two games left before the bye (against the Titans and Eagles), don't be surprised if he's out until Week Eleven at Cleveland.
While this is a frustrating development for Cushing (and Texans fans), it's hardly surprising. Cushing's play has been up-and-down all season, and has steadily worsened over the past couple of weeks. In the loss to Indianapolis at home a couple of weeks ago, Cushing had to be reminded about pre-snap positioning by teammates on at least two occasions, including an uncontested touchdown catch by running back Ahmad Bradshaw, mental mistakes likely exacerbated by physical issues.
Then, on Monday night, there were mental issues again for Cushing, but these paled in comparison to the very obvious lack of foot speed displayed by Cushing on plays like this one in the open field to running back Le'Veon Bell:
That video's hard to look at for anyone who was around to watch Cushing play at a Pro Bowl level, first as a rookie in 2009 and then in his first full season at inside linebacker in 2011. Unfortunately, Cushing's removal from the lineup for knee injuries has become a horrific tradition for this team right around this time each of the past two seasons.
In 2012, Cushing was hit with an illegal low cut block by Jets offensive lineman Matt Slauson in Week Five, tearing the ACL in his left knee. Then in 2013, Cushing was knocked out with a broken fibula and torn LCL when Jamaal Charles hit Cushing with a low but legal block in Week Seven in Kansas City. Each season, the Texans defense was statistically much worse without Cushing patrolling the middle.
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The Texans signed Cushing to a six-year, $52.5 million contract extension prior to the 2013 season (after the first knee injury, but before the second), and according to spotrac.com, would take a $10.2 million hit in dead salary cap money if they were to cut him loose prior to the 2015 season.
At this point, it's a legitimate question as to whether Brian Cushing will ever regain the form that earned him that massive extension. For at least one more week, and likely a lot longer than that, we just won't know.
And that fearsome front seven we all fantasized about remains just that. A fantasy.