Brian Cushing's return is the underrated story of the Texans in 2014.
For the first time since limping off the field at Arrowhead Stadium last October, the Texans' linebacker will play in a regular season game with his teammates. He's back from a season-ending knee injury for the second time in as many years.
Washington comes to NRG Stadium for the season opener, and many will focus on what first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney does against quarterback Robert Griffin, III.
Or how running back Arian Foster looks in his return from injury.
Or what quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick does in his debut running Bill O'Brien's new offense.
But your eyes should also be on #56.
The defense's quarterback in Cushing is a major injection of playmaking, stability and smarts for defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Evan Koch of the Texans media relations staff crunched some numbers and came up with the table below.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Cushing's presence in the lineup has meant the Texans' defense is the best in the NFL when it comes to yards allowed.
When he's not in there, they drop to 17th.
They also have given up an NFL-best average of 178.8 passing yards per game.
When he's out, they sink to 21st in the League with 238.3 yards allowed.
The key stats, though, are wins, losses and points allowed.
Houston is 17-11 with 19.5 points allowed while he's patrolled the middle of the field.
They're 7-13 and give up 25.6 points per game when he's not there.
Six games over .500 with Cushing.
Six games under .500 without.
Think about the two seasons in which he's played the full slate of 16 games: in 2009 he was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and the team went 9-7 for the first time in franchise history. In 2011, he was voted the team MVP and the Texans landed their first playoff berth with a 10-6 campaign.
Now he'll call the signals for a defense that features the masterful J.J. Watt at defensive end and a menace in Clowney.
THE CUSHING EFFECT
Yds/Gm Rnk Ru/Gm Rnk Pa/Gm Rnk TO/G Rnk
With 279.4 1 100.6 6 178.8 1 1.54 17t
Without 350.1 17 111.8 12 238.3 21 1.20 27
Difference 70.7 11.2 59.5 -.34