Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - J.J. Watt provides the sizzle in Houstonbut Brian Cushing was the steak in the Texans' talented defensive unit.
Watt is enjoying a breakout sophomore season in the NFL, using his impressive6-foot-6 frame to wreak havoc on opposing pockets.
The University of Wisconsin product's combination of speed and strength,combined with a non-stop motor, have turned him into the NFL's resident beast,and Watt's been able to lap players like the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul andMinnesota's Jared Allen as the best defensive end in football.
Watt is currently second in the NFL with 7 1/2 sacks and leads the league witheight passes defensed, three of which have been picked off and led to Texansscores. His uncanny ability to get his hands on passes at the line ofscrimmage has become one of his calling cards and led to a pick-six for Wattin last year's Wild Card game against Cincinnati.
Since he arrived in the NFL, Watt leads all AFC defensive linemen with 12passes batted down, including three against Miami in the 2012 season openerand three on Monday Night Football during a 23-17 Week 5 win over the Jets.
Watt is the living embodiment of the "splash play" that you often heardefensive coordinators talk about and is a major reason why the Texans are oneof only two unbeaten teams in football as they get ready to host the Green BayPackers for Football Night in America on Sunday night.
That primetime matchup will highlight two of the best defensive players infootball, Watt and Green Bay's Clay Matthews, who leads the NFL with eightsacks.
But as good as Watt has become in South Texas, you could make a strongargument that he is not the most important cog in Wade Phillips' defense.
Cushing is the unit's leader and the fact that he is missing should be thebigger storyline on Sunday.
The Texans were able to improve to 5-0 by edging the Jets but lost Cushing inthe process when Jets guard Matt Slauson rolled on his left leg during a cutblock, resulting in a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"I thought it was unnecessary whether it was legal or not," Phillips said whenasked about the play. "I think the league needs to look at something likethat. He was defenseless in that case. If the guy would've hit him in thehead, it would've been a penalty because he came from the backside."
The NFL agreed with Phillips' assessment and fined Slauson $10,000 for thepeel-back block on Thursday but that hardly was a comfort to Houston coachGary Kubiak, who almost sounded like he was at a wake when discussingCushing's MRI results.
"It's what we thought. He tore his ACL and we lost him for the year," he said."He's going to have surgery, probably in about two or three weeks, when theswelling goes down. It's a big blow to our team. You feel bad for Brianbecause he works so hard. He's going to be missed."
Cushing, an All-Pro in 2011, had amassed 29 tackles and one interception sofar this season.
Seven-year veteran Tim Dobbins, a journeyman with previous stops in San Diegoand Miami, stepped in for the Pro Bowler in New York and is the first optionto slide into his role, while the newly-signed Barrett Ruud will also beconsidered down the road.
"It's a challenge for our team, that's what this is," Kubiak said. "We knowDobbins is going to go in there and play well, and every player in our lockerroom is going to take on a little bit more responsibility."
That's the mentality in football -- it's always next man up.
But that next man up is never as talented as the man he is replacing. BothDobbins and Ruud are cerebral players but lack Cushing's athleticism andplaymaking skills.
Kubiak tried to bolster Dobbins' confidence earlier this week while making itclear others need to pick it up around him.
"He needs to get in there and get the reps with the ones," the coach said whendiscussing Dobbins on Thursday. "He got a ton of those today. He'll do a hellof a job. He should get better every time out.
"At the same time, everybody's got to do a little bit more to help him out."
If Dobbins falters, you can bet Ruud, who has plenty of starting experiencewith Tampa Bay, will get a strong look sooner rather than later.
"We're bringing him along slowly," Kubiak said of Ruud. "We're obviouslytrying to teach him this system. He's come a long way. (Linebackers coach)Reggie (Herring) and Wade feel good about his presence and we'll see wherehe's at."
"When he played for Tampa, I thought he played really well," Phillips addedwhen discussing Ruud. "We looked at him as a free agent when he came out as afree agent. He was one of the top guys on our list we just didn't need insidelinebackers at that time. We felt fortunate that we're able to pick him upnow."
Defensive end Antonio Smith left out the positive spin.
"It's going to be a challenge because like I've been telling everybody, (BrianCushing) is irreplaceable," Smith said. "What he does, not many people periodcan do."
The Texans aren't used to life at the top. For much of its decade-longexistence, Houston has been an afterthought but one thing the franchise doesunderstand is what it's like to lose a defensive star.
Defensive end Mario Williams, who is now with Buffalo, was regarded as theTexans' top defender last season before he suffered a torn pectoral muscle inWeek 5. Houston persevered to win its first division title.
The stakes are higher now. A second straight crown in the weak AFC South isvirtually a given with or without Cushing.
But the Super Bowl?
That's certainly less likely but don't tell Cushing -- he's still doing hispart.
"Trust me when I say that I'll be back better than ever next year," Cushingwrote on his Facebook page Wednesday, "but in the meantime, I want to thank myteammates, coaches, and you fans for all the amazing love and support."
"Oh, and WE are STILL winning THIS year's Super Bowl."