No position on the Texans was more affected by injuries this season than inside linebacker. And no player they lost to injury was more important than inside linebacker Brian Cushing.

Cushing, the Texans' MVP and a second-team All-Pro in 2011, was one of four Houston inside linebackers to end the season on injured reserve. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee on Oct. 8 courtesy of a low, late block by New York Jets guard Matt Slauson, who was later fined $10,000 for the hit by the NFL.

Much like quarterback Matt Schaub at Baltimore last season, Cushing watched from the sideline at New England last Sunday as the Texans were eliminated from the playoffs in the Divisional Round.

"I know it was difficult," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Monday. "I watched Cush stand there as we were warming up for the game (at New England, a 41-28 loss). The hard thing in this business is you only get so many opportunities, and for him not to be there with us (in the playoffs) first off hurts our team. He's a great player, and I know that as a player, you can't take those opportunities for granted. I know it's been difficult on him just like it was for Matt last year, but Cush will be back. He'll be back better than ever, and we'll be a better team because he's back."

In 2011, the Texans lost Pro Bowl outside linebacker Mario Williams to a season-ending chest injury in Week 5. Their defense was able to maintain its elite level of play, finishing the season ranked second in yards and fourth in points allowed.

The Texans lost Cushing at the same point of this season. Whether because of his absence or a combination of factors, they suffered a precipitous drop-off without him in the lineup.

Through Week 4, with Cushing leading the defense with 30 tackles, the Texans ranked first in points (14.0) and yards (273.0) allowed per game. They were second in passing (182.8) and 11th in rushing (90.3) yards allowed.