Texans' ground game a work in progress

Arthur Arkush
October 5, 2012
Key matchup: Texans running game vs. Patriots run defense

The Texans are 4-0, with an average margin of victory of 17.4 points. They entered Week Five ranked first overall in total “D,” with the most dominant player in football, J.J. Watt, spearheading the unit.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Texans’ best start in franchise history, but that doesn’t mean they are a team without concerns.

Though it ranks ninth overall in rushing yards per game Houston is gaining less than four yards per carry (3.7), and franchise RB Arian Foster is on pace for 412 carries, the second-highest total in NFL history.

Head coach Gary Kubiak knows that running the football effectively is the lifeblood of his offense, and he is definitely concerned about getting the ground game popping consistently. However, Kubiak indicated earlier this week that he is not concerned about the heavy lifting Foster has done in the early going.

There is a combination of factors that have contributed to Foster’s historic pace for rushing attempts. Perhaps the biggest is Ben Tate’s toe injury, which has slowed him since a two-TD performance in Week Two against the Jaguars. The fact that the Texans are blowing out opponents also has led to Foster getting more work than usual. Ideally, a healthy Tate would receive 10-12 touches per game, so the sooner they can get him back to 100 percent health, the sooner they can give Foster more rest.

Kubiak isn’t concerned, yet, with Foster’s workload. If the pace keeps up into the second half of the season, he will be singing a different tune. History tells us that running backs can’t handle that amount of carries.

As for the Texans’ struggles to consistently move the ball on the ground, we hear Foster has yet to really hit his stride, as evidenced by his lack of long runs. Foster gained more than 20 yards as a rusher or receiver 16 times in 2011; he has only one carry and no receptions longer than 20 yards this season.

Make no mistake, he is on pace for another monster campaign. But Foster has yet to run like he is capable of, and the offensive line deserves some of the blame. The rebuilt right side of the unit has been a disappointment, with rookie Ben Jones and second-year player Derek Newton, who are rotating with veterans Antoine Caldwell and Ryan Harris, respectively, experiencing typical growing pains of first-time starters (or co-starters at least).

Word is the Texans would love nothing more than to have two players clamp down on starting jobs, but that has yet to happen.