Why Brian Cushing won the Defensive ROY Award

Houston Texans outside linebacker Brian Cushing won the 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award earlier today, and I can’t think of a more deserving player.

Apparently, neither can the voters.

Of the 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL and have a vote, 39 of them selected Cushing.

While you can make a strong case for Bills safety Jairus Byrd (who tied for the league lead in interceptions, with nine), Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (10 sacks) and Redskins defensive end Brian Orakpo (11 sacks), Cushing was the rookie defender who made the biggest splash.

The thing is, it isn’t just about individual statistics. It’s about impact and production. Sure, Orakpo had 11 sacks and was very impressive coming off the edge for the ‘Skins this season. But Washington went 4-12 and was never a threat at any point to make the playoffs. In addition, the Redskins ranked 18th in points allowed (21.0 pts/game) and 16th against the run (112.4 yds/game).

Byrd was a ball hawk in a Buffalo secondary that finished the season ranked second against the pass (184.2 yds/game). But the rookie from Oregon started only 11 games and missed the final two contests of the year with a season-ending groin injury he aggravated in Week 15 against the New England Patriots.

Matthews-a former teammate of Cushing’s at USC-made a serious impact on a newly revamped Green Bay defense. But the rookie linebacker didn’t make his first career start until Week 4 and amassed just 51 tackles on the year.

Then, there’s Cushing.

The former Southern Cal All-American wasted no time showing the league why the Texans used the 15th overall pick on him as he stepped into the starting lineup in Week 1 and promptly recorded eight tackles in Houston’s 24-7 loss to the New York Jets.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not just about individual statistics, it’s about what those statistics translate into.Sure, we can sit here and mention how Cushing finished fifth in the NFL in tackles (134), racked up 5.0 sacks, forced two fumbles and intercepted four passes, but that’s just tip of the iceberg. Cushing won the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award because of the impact he made in Houston from the moment he arrived.

Said current teammate and 2006 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year DeMeco Ryans, “I saw when he first stepped on the field that he could be a special player for us.”

Cushing started all 16 games for a Texans team that went a franchise best 9-7 this season and finished second in the AFC South. In addition, Houston’s defense allowed less points (333) and rushing yards (1,711) in 2009 than in any other season in their franchise’s eight-year history.

Houston’s defense has enjoyed solid improvement since Cushing was drafted. Take a look:

But it’s not just that. While the team has gotten better as a whole, Cushing also won this award because of his outstanding individual play.

What impressed me the most was how this guy’s got a motor that runs for four quarters. Take a look at his 2009 production breakdown by quarter. Two things to note: the guy closes out the each half solid and gets better as the game goes on.

Still not sold? The Texans were 5-1 in games where Cushing recorded at least half of a sack and 5-3 in games where the rookie posted nine or more tackles.

And as the season went on, the kid just kept getting better and better. Cushing recorded 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one interception in the Texans’ final four games.

It should come as no surprise that the Texans went 4-0 during that stretch.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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