Texans adjusting to loss of LB Cushing

HOUSTON — The last remaining undefeated team in the AFC suffered its first major blow of the season Tuesday when Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing’s season was pronounced over after suffering a torn ACL Monday night against the Jets.

Cushing, the verbal leader of Houston’s 3-4 defense, was the Texans’ leading tackler and second-team All-Pro last season. His inside linebacker spot will be filled by either Mister Alexander, an undrafted second-year player from Florida State, or seven-year veteran Tim Dobbins. But Cushing won’t be truly replaced.

“You don’t replace players like (Cushing),” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.

Cushing’s loss is compounded by the offseason departure of middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, traded to Philadelphia for draft picks, and a quadriceps injury to Darrell Sharpton, a three-year veteran from Miami who is on the physically unable to perform list. Houston has two weeks to decide whether to bring him back in 2012, and Kubiak said on Tuesday he was unsure if that would happen.

“He’s still not ready today, but we do have some more time on our hands,” Kubiak said. “We are pushing him toward that date here in a few weeks toward our bye week, where we could get a good look at him and see, but there’s still some progress to be made.”

So this is a problem, although the strength of the Texans’ defense is its defensive line and outside linebackers, and they all remain healthy. Perhaps in part because of the effectiveness of those five guys, Cushing was having a relatively quiet season by his standards. He had 29 tackles, one interception, a forced fumble and no sacks in five games.

Cushing was injured Monday when Jets offensive lineman Matt Slauson hit Cushing in the back of the knee, a shot some players around the NFL considered cheap.

“Where is the NFL’s protection on blocks below the waist like that on Cushing?” wrote Packers linebacker Clay Matthews on Twitter. “Double standard!” Matthews was a college teammate of Cushing at USC.

Kubiak on Tuesday chose not to offer an opinion on the block, essentially saying what’s done is done. Jets coach Rex Ryan said he didn’t remember the specific play.