October 18, 2009
Cushing Roars to Life in the Jungle
by Keith Weiland
Linebacker Brian Cushing and the Texans defense pitched a second half shutout on the road to suck the life from the Bengals, 28-17. The rookie, playing just his sixth pro game, sparked a defensive unit with two forced fumbles and a game-clinching interception to ensure the victory.
But this game wasn't all about the defense, as offensive coordinator Baby Shan called for an aggressive aerial assault until the game's waning moments. Shanahan's quarterback, Matt Schaub, completed 28 of 40 pass attempts for 392 yards and four touchdowns. It was the fourth time in the last five games that Schaub threw for at least 300 yards.
Down 17-14 at the half, the Texans came out throwing with their first possession of the third quarter to seize the lead for good. Schaub completed all five of his throws, including a 23-yard pass into the endzone to a wide open Jacoby Jones. Schaub then completed his fourth touchdown pass later in the third quarter when tight end Owen Daniels made a one-handed grab for the decisive 11-point lead.
Then Cushing and the defense took control. Giving up just two first downs in the second half, the defense also forced three turnovers after the break, and all three of them involved Cushing.
Following Jones' score, Cushing forced a fumble following a completion to Bengals tight end Daniel Coats recovered near midfield. Then midway through the fourth quarter, just two plays after running back Steve Slaton fumbled the football, Cushing ripped the football loose from tight end J.P. Foschi which safety Bernard Pollard recovered.
Cushing then forced his third turnover of the half just after the two minute warning of the fourth quarter. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw between defenders in what he thought was a seam in the defense, but Cushing cut the seam and picked off the throw at Houston's 11-yard line to ice the game.
Coming into the game, the Bengals had built their 4-1 record on putting together three late comebacks in the final couple minutes of the game. So while an 11-point lead seems like a safe one, even for the Texans, the game was still very much in doubt until Cushing's interception.
But as critical as that play was, it was Cushing's second forced fumble that was arguably the most crucial. It came on the heels of Slaton's turnover, and it was just the sort of play that could have given the Bengals the breath of life that they had used to achieve their earlier comebacks.
Cushing stood up the receiver and freed the ball, and the other impressive newcomer to the resurgent Texans defense, Pollard, fell on the fumble and clutched it all the way to victory.
Well, obviously Cushing put a stamp on this one. The entire defense really came to play in the second half though, particularly in the back seven since the pass rush from the front four was not all that impressive. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans led the way with eight tackles, and Pollard and cornerback Dunta Robinson were enforcers in the secondary shutting down the league's top rusher in Cedric Benson and a very capable passing offense.
Offensively, Schaub had control of this game from the first play, which oh by the way went 59 yards thanks to a short bubble screen to Andre Johnson. Speaking of screens, several were called effectively by Shanahan in this game, as Slaton may not have been much to speak of in the ground game, but his six catches for 102 yards and a score were key to diversifying the passing offense. So that's a rare headset sticker there for Baby Shan.
As for Johnson, only he can make eight catches for 135 yards seem like just another day on the job. And Daniels, with his one-handed TD catch, racked up seven receptions of his own, two of which for points.
17-46, 2.7 average
The number of second half first downs, the three-and-outs, the second half time of possession... all of these stats indicate just how awesome the Texans were in leaving the visitor's lockerroom after the break. All of these stats though were predicated on the unit's ability to limit the Bengals rushing offense, one powered by the (albeit somewhat surprising) league leading rusher in Benson. They played with an attitude, yes, but they also played within their own means. Oh, and just maybe they found a new enforcer and leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year in Cushing, too.
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