Somewhat quietly, Brian Cushing has been a driving force behind the Texans' top-ranked defense this season.
Defensive end J.J. Watt has garnered most of the headlines, and deservedly so, after leading the NFL with 7.5 sacks in four September games.
But it's Cushing, a New Jersey native who can't wait to play in the Meadowlands on Monday Night Football, who leads the Texans in tackles. And it's Cushing, a tenacious inside linebacker, who sets the tone for the close-knit Houston defense by, as Watt put it, simply "being Brian Cushing."
"He's our leader," Watt said. "He's crazy, and so of course we feed off of that. He's flying all over the field. He's so reactive. He's a football player in every sense of the word. It's always nice to have a guy like that playing behind you. He can make so many plays from sideline to sideline."
Cushing has 24 tackles this season according to STATS LLC. He has 38 tackles according to Texans coaches, who compile their stats after film review.
Those 38 tackles are six more than the coaches have credited Watt this season. They're 14 more than the Texans' next-closest players, linebacker Bradie James and safety Glover Quin.
"Almost every play, if you look around, you'll see his number," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "If he doesn't make the tackle, he's right there. Even if it's a pass play down the field and a receiver catches the ball, you see him around the pile.
"He's our playmaker from the inside at linebacker and makes plays all over the field, makes plays that I don't see any other linebacker being able to make."
Phillips called Cushing "a versatile player that does everything well." The fourth-year inside linebacker rushes the passer, covers tight ends and running backs man-to-man and plays on every down. He also wears the communication system in his helmet, relaying calls to the huddle from the sideline.
Cushing's play – and fanatical on-field intensity – has helped the Texans rank first in scoring defense (14.0) and yards allowed (273.0) per game through four games.
"He's the force in the middle, and we kind of gravitate toward his intensity," outside linebacker Brooks Reed said. "He's the one that gets everyone going on the sideline and when we're out there on the field. I think every team needs a guy like that."
Cushing was selected by his teammates as the Texans' most valuable player last season, when he led the team with 114 tackles. He was voted a team captain at midseason and again before the start of this season.
Defensive end Antonio Smith, a fellow team captain, described Cushing as a "watch my play" type of leader. He said Cushing will tell other players that he's going to make the first five tackles of the game, then actually go out and do it.
"He's an animal out there on the field," Smith said. "He plays relentlessly. He plays hard. To me, it's just become who Cushing is. You just expect for him to play that way, so it's normal for me."
The rest of the country will see that "normal" in action on Monday night against the New York Jets. Cushing will have plenty of family and friends in attendance at MetLife Stadium as the Texans look to improve to 5-0.
"It's going to be awesome," Cushing said. "It's going to be a fun opportunity to go home and play in front of the fans and everything. It's going to be a special opportunity; one of those things I don't want to just let slip by