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Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had stepped away from the media contingent Wednesday when he suddenly remembered there was one issue he’d forgotten to address.
So the veteran coach who is just returning from a two-week illness hiatus did a quick about face.
He was still smarting from the apparent snub of inside linebacker Brian Cushing for a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team after the selections were announced Tuesday. Phillips chided the voters for not including Cushing during what has been an outstanding and productive season for the third-year player.
“I know a lot of people are deserving but that guy is a holy phenom,” Phillips said unprovoked. “He’s one of the best I’ve coached and I’ve been in it a long time.”
Phillips is right. Cushing’s official numbers – 110 tackles, 4.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions – should have been good enough to make the team. But then it seems a no brainer when Phillips mentioned the tackles and production not credited, which puts Cushing’s tackle totals somewhere between 160 and 180 on the season with a game still to go.
Certainly, Cushing’s side-to-sideline production in Phillips 3-4 defense was much better than Baltimore’s aging perennial All-Pro Ray Lewis, which let’s you know the voting can sometimes be more a popularity contest than a testament to produce. Cushing hasn’t missed a game this season and ranks 13 overall in tackles, while Lewis has missed some games and ranks 48th in the NFL in tackles with just 88 stops this season.
The Texans have just two players on the All-Pro team, running back Arian Foster and cornerback Johnathan Joseph, while Cushing was picked as one of nine alternates from the team.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” Cushing said Wednesday of being upset at the apparent snub. “I play this game to be the best. I’m never going to hide that. It means one thing, there is room for improvement. Guys don’t think I’m good enough yet and I will continue to do.
“As far as motivation, the driving force is going to be a big one.”
And that reason alone is why defensive end Antonio Smith seems fine with Cushing being left off the Pro Bowl team. Initially, Smith called it a travesty and a mockery of the game, until he thought about how the Texans (10-5) might benefit as whole with a critical season-ending game coming up Sunday against AFC South rival Tennessee followed by the franchise’s first appearance in the postseason.
“What they did might have just made this defense better,” Smith said with a smile. “He is going to kill everybody.”
Cushing, however, isn’t alone in having extra motivation after the Texans breakthrough season seemed to be minimized in the Pro Bowl voting.
Foster, who has gone over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and returns to the Pro Bowl for the second year, definitely benefitted from an experienced offensive line paving the way. Yet the Texans didn’t have one offensive lineman make the Pro Bowl team on an offense that ranks second in the NFL rushing offense.
Left tackle Duane Brown, who hasn’t allowed a sack all season, and center Chris Myers were chosen as alternates.
“A little bit,” Brown said when asked if the snub provides extra motivation to him and his teammates. “We always feel like we are kind of under the radar and overlooked at times as a team and as a unit on offense. We always have a lot to play for and this will add to it a little bit.”
Defensively, the Texans also seemed deserving of more than one Pro Bowl invite after the same unit that was at the bottom statistically was No.1 in overall defense for much of the season and is now No.2. Joining Cushing as alternates are outside linebacker Connor Barwin, rookie defensive end J.J. Watt and Smith.
“All of our fires are lit, all of us are disappointed. That’s just how the game is,” Smith said. “Alternate for the second year in a row … I guess it’s good but it’s not good.
“We didn’t have a lot of big show, highly televised games. It’s out of sight out of mind because you can see the stats and see we were No.1 most of the season and No.2 now, but in their minds they are still going to see what they saw last year.”
Unfortunately, that sometimes cuts both ways. Clearly some players like Lewis are voted in based on reputation and not production.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson, who has been to his share of Pro Bowls and is alternate this year despite missing half the season with hamstring issues, agrees players are often selected based on what they’ve done in the past.
“A lot of times sometimes guys go just off name,” Johnson said. “Once you’ve made it a few times it’s not hard to get back there as long as you put up some decent numbers.
“There were some guys on our team I felt should have gone that didn’t go.”
Texans coach Gary Kubiak agrees, but like his players the coach finds little use in belaboring the lack of respect for what his team has accomplished.
“There are always a few guys left out and I think we had a few but that is part of the process and work in this league,” said Kubiak, whose team has won the AFC South for the first time. “It just makes you hungrier and I’m very proud of all of them guys. They’ve done a hell of a job this year and this football team helped them do a hell of a job. Those guys will find their way in there at some point.”