Reporting Mike Meltser
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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – It was the mantra of the 2011 Houston Texans – Next Man Up. A good phrase and a fun t-shirt, but not the way you want your NFL team to go through a Super Bowl season. In 2012, Texans fans could appreciate the resiliency of the AFC South champions while also hoping that resiliency would not be put to the test (to that extent) again.
Unfortunately, the Texans’ biggest injury this season came when linebacker Brian Cushing was cut by Jets G Matt Slauson in Houston’ 23-17 win on Monday Night. Texans coach Gary Kubiak confirmed Tuesday that Cushing would be lost for the season with a torn ACL. Now the question is: Who replaces the leader and heart and soul of the Texans defense? Right now, that answer has to be backup inside linebacker Tim Dobbins.
Dobbins started his career playing under Wade Phillips in San Diego, so he clearly has a lot of familiarity with the system. Houston picked Dobbins up off the scrap heap right before the 2011 season, and he was a very solid special teams contributor. Most notably, Dobbins made a great stop on 4th-and-goal during the playoff game loss to the Ravens – one of the best plays of the season.
“He’s a veteran player, he’s been with Wade before, he’s been in Wade’s system, and he went in there last night and played very well,” Kubiak said about Dobbins. “It’s a lot to ask, but that’s why he’s here. “
The scouting report on Dobbins is similar to many backup inside linebackers: good against the run, probably not the guy you want chasing running backs and tight ends in short-yardage areas. In terms of run defense, he should be able to hold up pretty well.
The main issue
Phillips loves to use dime defenses, probably more than any other defensive coordinator in the NFL. One of the absolute keys to that strategy is Cushing cleaning up the run plays inside, and helping out in short-yardage pass defense. As good as Dobbins and inside linebacker Bradie James can be against the run, can they hold up against some of the NFL’s explosive weapons in the middle of the field? How confident will Phillips be in using dime packages over 50% of the time?
Technically, the Texans can replace Cushing much easier than they could replace players like quarterback Matt Schaub or left tackle Duane Brown. That’s the difference between a linebacker and a quarterback and left tackle. You can’t lose players at those positions. Still, sports is more than about stats and plugging in this guy and that guy.
There’s a little mysticism or mystique involved at times. Cushing wasn’t the best player the Texans have on defense, but almost everybody in that locker room knows that he was the heart and soul of that unit.
Can Tim Dobbins be the answer?
We know he isn’t Cushing, but we’ll find out some answers Sunday night against the Packers.