The hardest facet about doing an unsung hero award for every win is that nearly every player gets some sort of publicity.
Punter Brett Hartmann? Breaking team records on punts and touchbacks are a good way for BRBers, AFC South blogs, and Chron.com to notice you and eliminate you from the running.
Back-up running back Ben Tate is grabbing headlines, while his offensive line struggled to keep quarterback Matt Schaub clean enough to nab this most prestigious of honors.
I thought about using this space to hype up defensive end J.J. Watt as a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate as he continues to make his presence felt, but that’s another article for another day. Although DROY voters should pay attention to how Watt impacts the game with his pressures and tipped passes at the line of scrimmage.
So who is unsung or maybe not quite sung enough? Whose play has caught the eye of very little and deserves more chatter?
Why none other than Inside linebacker
Brain Crushing Brian Cushing.
Last year, Cushing served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. When he came back, he had to get back into game shape, but that plan was derailed when DeMeco Ryans went down with a season-ending injury. Left with Kevin Bentley and Zac Diles surrounding him, Cushing then tried to make the position switch to middle linebacker before the Texans quickly pulled the plug on that. Cushing ended his season back on the outside, but it’s pretty obvious to see why he struggled so much in 2010.
Sunday's performance could be an example that Cushing just may be getting back in the swing of things. Leading the team with 10 tackles (7 solo, 3 assists), Cushing was back in run-stopping form. The majority of his tackles came within three-yards of the line of scrimmage as he was reading the runs well and filling the open lanes.
Beyond that, Cushing’s explosion seems to be there again, as he appeared to be quick to the ball-carrier and was not being run over as he often was last year. The USC alumnus still needs to get back to his old self, the guy who covered exceptionally well and forced a turnover seemingly at will, but Cushing’s on pace to match his rookie season total for tackles. This is big, considering his primary role as a run-stopper in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. Let’s forget the fact that Cushing could be better at if there were an attention-grabbing, triple-cheeseburger eating nose tackle in front of him to help keep interior offensive linemen off him.
The Dolphins had a good game on the ground, but it could’ve been a lot better without Cushing making plays (especially since Ryans and starting nose tackle Shaun Cody combined for two total tackles and were non-factors on the day...especially Cody, who was pushed around at will).
Kudos to Brian Cushing on being this week’s unsung hero. Here’s hoping he continues to regain his 2009 form.