Through the first quarter and a half of the Houston Texans' 23-17 Monday night win over the New York Jets, Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was everywhere on the field. He had three tackles and two assists, and as usual, he was tough to stop.
There are times when opposing offenses use questionable tactics to stop such dominant defenders, and that appeared to be the case when the Jets called a handoff to running back Bilal Powell with 10:36 left in the second quarter. Cushing was looking to make a play, but guard Matt Slauson appeared to roll up on Cushing, and the linebacker left the field and went to the locker room with a knee injury.
It was revealed after the game that Cushing may have a torn ACL, a report confirmed on Tuesday afternoon by Pro Football Talk. Cushing will miss the rest of the 2012 season.
"It's what we thought, obviously, he tore his ACL and we lost him for the year, and he's going to have surgery in probably two or three weeks when the swelling goes down," Kubiak said at his Tuesday press conference. "It's a big blow for our team. You feel so bad for Brian, because he's worked so hard, he's playing so well, [and] he's the leading tackler on our team."
The loss to the Texans' defense is a major one.
"He's our playmaker from the inside at linebacker and makes plays all over the field, makes plays that I don't see any other linebackers being able to make," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said last week. "He gives you a lot of versatility. He can cover man-to-man. He can play on third down so you play every down. He can rush. He's just a versatile player that does everything well."
The difference between chop blocks and cut blocks are tough to discern at times, but our'erstwhile guest columnist and former Texans defensive lineman Seth Payne pointed out the difference on the play in no uncertain terms.
"Before somebody makes a misguided statement, there is a difference between a legal zone blocking cut and what Jets OG seemingly did to Cushing," Seth said on his Twitter account. "If it's what it looked like, that block was an either illegal roll up block or clip, depending on the proximity to the line of scrimmage. Debatable whether that was 'close line play.' Regardless, blocking from behind and below the knee constitutes a clip even in close line play."
Green Bay Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews, a teammate of Cushing's at USC, was similarly unimpressed.
"I mean, they protect the offense. That's kind of what they do," Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt told USA Today. "It's a tough situation. I mean, I understand. Football's a rough game, and I haven't seen the play so I can't comment on the play. But it's a tough game. Hopefully it was a legal play because you hate illegal plays, especially when players are injured. That's not what you want."
The block, which certainly looked like an example of the illegal chop, was uncalled by the crew led by referee Scott Green.
There is a gray area between the legal cut block and the illegal chop block. The cut block occurs when a player (usually an offensive lineman) blocks another (usually a defensive lineman) below the knees with his helmet in front of the player. The chop block occurs when the same block comes from the side or the back, or when the defensive player is engaged with another offensive player and therefore defenseless.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the NFL, which has professed an increased interest in player safety over the last few years, reacts to this.
"That's in the league's hands," Kubiak said, when asked if he thought that Slauson's block was outside the rules. "It doesn't change the fact that we're sitting here today having to deal with losing a heck of a player. I'm more concerned with that."
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