Beyond the Boxscore

Houston Texans D turns nasty on the shoulders of Brian Cushing, making the Dallas Cowboys look soft

Houston Texans D turns nasty on the shoulders of Brian Cushing, making the Dallas Cowboys look soft

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Brian Cushing's intensity drives opponents crazy. Photo by Bill Baptist
Jason Garrett
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett could use some Cushings on his content team.
Wade Phillips sidelines
Wade Phillips has Cushing in a playmaking position in the Texans' revamped defense. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
News_Brian Cushing_Houston Texans_football player
Jason Garrett
Wade Phillips sidelines

Jacksonville Jaguar Blaine Gabbert is an unremarkable rookie quarterback whose passer ratings are scarier than anything you'll see on Halloween (try 26.7 against the Houston Texans last Sunday). But Gabbert is good for one thing, letting everyone in on just how annoyed opposing teams get at Brian Cushing.

For there's the 22-year-old Gabbert getting caught on camera, screaming a word that even Howard Stern would hesitate to use on air as the Texans linebacker aggressively pursues him to the sideline. And beyond. As Gabbert runs out of bounds and Cushing goes flying after him—not actually hitting him, but catapulting through the air in a definite swoosh by—the quarterback is clearly heard on the game broadcast, yelling out, "Whoa there, motherf******!"

No foul, plenty of harm—to the Jacksonville Jaguars. For it's clear that Cushing is in the head of yet another quarterback. You wouldn't want this maniac going after you either. Who knows what he's going to do next?

Cushing plays to the edge—and then some. To Jaguars, he's probably a dirty player. Heck, Jack Del Rio's team has already called so many Texans dirty, what's one more? To long-suffering Texans fans (which include a certain billionaire who writes the checks), Cushing personifies the attitude that is turning the franchise around.

"I don't think there is anyone playing better in the NFL right now than Brian Cushing," Bob McNair says.

To put it simply, Brian Cushing is one bad dude. The Texans—one of the blandest, nicest NFL teams in the league for years—suddenly have a number of those dudes.

Hours after Houston (5-3) finished off its 24-14 foot stomp of a win against the Jaguars, everyone received a reminder of what happens to a team lacking players with an evil competitive spirit. For there were the Dallas Cowboys of Tony Romo and Jason Garrett coming up smaller than small in a showdown game, making the Philadelphia Eagles look every bit The Dream Team in a 34-7 Dallas step down.

The Cowboys weren't just beaten, they didn't bother to compete.

Philadelphia racked up 127 rushing yards in the game's first 16 minutes against Rob Ryan's overrated No. 1 rushing defense. This isn't just on Garrett and Ryan, two coaches who are clearly overmatched and undone by Big D's supersized spotlight. It's on a roster populated with players who don't seem to want it enough.

Romo will probably be a great, Phil Dunphy-like dad to his baby on the way. But until then, he mostly seems determined to keep acting like a big baby, dramatically pointing out his receivers pass pattern "mistakes" for all of America to see. Peyton Manning's signature at-the-line histrionics have nothing on Romo's frantic arm gestures at his wideouts — and pained, oh, so pained, facial expressions — after any pass goes incomplete.

The Hard Way

Being a Cowboy in Dallas is a great life. Who really needs to win too?

Houston offers no such NFL easy glamour life. A Texan who wants to be recognized around the league needs to win. And no one yearns to be respected quite like Brian Cushing.

He grew up in New Jersey, set his sights on playing for the Cowboys. At times, it must have seemed like a cruel twist for him to end up in Texas, but not in the center stage spotlight of the blue star. This is a guy who choose to go to USC at the height of its Matt Leinart/Pete Carroll Hollywood football team days. 

"Cush has always thought he was the best player in the league," Texans nose tackle Shaun Cody laughs. "So it's great to see him finally getting recognized. He's always had the attitude of wanting to the best of the best. He's always carried himself like that.

"I love to watch him play. He's all over the place out there."

 "Cush has always thought he was the best player in the league," Texans nose tackle Shaun Cody laughs. "So it's great to see him finally getting recognized."  

Cushing is just the type of player that a 3-4 Cowboys team desperately needs. But he's all Texan now, getting unleashed by Wade Phillips, the man whose changed everything for the Texans, the man that Dallas owner Jerry Jones jettisoned and blamed for his own roster failures.

"To me, Cushing's mental capacity as a pro football player has taken a huge jump from last year to this year," Texans coach Gary Kubiak says. "Just the football he's learned and knowing how to cheat, how to see this and that formation.

"I think he's being coached extremely well right now and he has responded to it."

If you look at the stats, you'll find the Texans rank third in the NFL in total defense. Third in the league. The Texans D.

Meanwhile, Rod Ryan's much hyped Dallas unit comes in ninth, giving up five more points a game than Houston. DeMarcus Ware—the man beast that Phillips helped develop—recorded four sacks against the Eagles. Then, he talked about the loss being "just one game."

Just one game? If Brian Cushing lost by 27 points to his team's arch rival, he'd probably be hitting his head against the nearest concrete wall. Sometimes talent alone isn't enough 

Crazy Good

Cushing is anything but always of sound mind and body. The NFL suspended him for four games last year when he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and his excuse theories bordered on the nonsensical with little scientific evidence to back them up.

He does push it on the field too. If Cushing had touched Gabbert on that chase out of bounds, a 15-yard penalty would have been tacked on to the end of the run. But he didn't. He just let the rookie who he'd already picked off know he'd always be there.

 Cowboys' defenders ran around like 5-year-olds playing a soccer game, putting themselves out of position again and again, almost daring the big-play Eagles to beat them with big plays by blitzing way too much.  

"The guy's a baller," Texans linebacker Connor Barwin says. "He's been balling all year."

He's doing it in a system that suits his talents. While the Cowboys' defenders ran around like 5-year-olds playing a soccer game, putting themselves out of position again and again, almost daring the big-play Eagles to beat them with big plays by blitzing way too much, Cushing is thriving in Phillips' much-more-controlled chaos.

"He's not a rah-rah guy, but  he's a guy that makes it fun," Cushing says of his coordinator, the one without the crazy hair or crazy talk. "He makes you want to play for him ... I feel he's put his trust in me since day one.

"It's one of those things where you don't want to let him down."

Is anybody worried about letting Jason Garrett or Rob Ryan down? Not based on what America saw Sunday night.

This is football. It's good to have a determined, loyal nut job on your side. Just ask the cursing quarterback.

Watch Blaine Gabbert curse out Brian Cushing: