Friendly rivalry pushes Watt, Cushing

Friendly rivalry pushes Watt, Cushing
September 9, 2013, 7:30 am
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Brian Cushing (left) and J.J. Watt (right) have a friendly rivalry.

(USA Today Images)

One is the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. The other is the unquestioned leader on that award winner’s defense.

Together they make the Texans’ defense one of the more feared units in the league. But in the process, they’ve also created a friendly rivalry, one that only makes both of them better.

“We definitely have a little bit of a rivalry, but at the same time, I think we look at more of ourselves as a duo, kind of a two-headed monster,” Brian Cushing said about his relationship with J.J. Watt, during a press conference to announce Cushing’s new six-year contract extension. “Two guys that are going to have to be dealt with for a long time that feed off of each other and are really excited to play with one another.”

Brian Cushing entered the NFL as a first-round pick from USC in 2009 and immediately found success. He had four sacks and four interceptions in his first season and was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s why it was no surprise when two years later, when Watt was taken in the first round of the 2011 draft, he seemed to gravitate toward Cushing.

But it wasn’t just Cushing’s success. It was the way he achieved it that had Watt interested in following him.

“I always was a guy who liked putting in the extra work, who liked putting in the extra hours,” Watt said. “It was pretty easy to follow a guy like Cush because he does the same type of thing. We’re wired kind of the same way. I think that’s what brought us together.”

While Watt had a monster season last year – it was perhaps the best season a defensive lineman has ever had – Cushing was forced to be a spectator. Cushing tore his ACL on Oct. 8 against the Jets and missed the rest of the season.

Without Cushing, the defense was noticeably less affective. With Cushing on the field, the Texans won their first five games in 2012, giving up 14.6 points and 275.6 yards per game. In the 13 remaining games (including playoffs) without Cushing, they went 8-5, giving up 24 points and 342.2 yards per game.

“Cush has got a rivalry with everybody,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He’s on point all the time. He’s going to outplay every linebacker he sees on film. He’s going to try to. That motivates Cush to play good. It’s he wants to play better than anybody, no matter who it is. Most of the guys that I’ve had that are really great players are the same way. They want to outplay everybody.”

The potentially scary thing for NFL offenses is that Cushing and Watt haven’t really gotten much of a chance to play together for an extended period of time when they’re both at their best. This preseason, both players were limited, so the first chance they’ll have to really play together this season will be on Monday night.

“I think that’s one thing that makes us great,” Watt said of the rivalry. “It’s also one thing that draws us to each other, is that we both want to be the best, all the time, whether it’s in the weight room, on the field, anywhere. I think that it brings the best out of each other because I know he’s always working. He knows I’m always working.

“At the end of the day, it’s great, because on Sunday, we’re both working together, in this case on Monday. You love having that little rivalry because we’re pushing each other at the end of the day, when the rivalry is set aside, we’re brothers and we’re on the same team. We’re pushing for the same goal. It’s a pleasure to play with a guy like that.”

When Cushing – whom Watt affectionately referred to as “money bags” after Cushing’s contract extension was announced – finally returned to the field for his first game action in 10 months this preseason, he was the last defensive player announced to the home crowd at Reliant Stadium.

That spot had been reserved for Watt, the ultimate fan favorite, who was announced second-to-last. In the week following the game, Cushing was asked if Watt will take that spot back.

“I don’t think so,” Cushing said with a deadpan look that eventually gave way to a smirk before being overtaken by a grin. “I don’t think so.”

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