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Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the biggest weakness of the 2009 season for every team and explain how the franchise can address the issue. The series continues with the Texans, who finished second in the AFC South (9-7).
Biggest problem in 2009: Red-zone woes continue
Over the last two seasons, the Houston Texans have had one of the NFL's most dynamic offenses from a purely statistical standpoint. The Texans ranked third in total yards in 2008 with 6,113, but just 17th in points (366). In 2009, it was more of the same – the team ranked fourth in yards (6,129) and 10th in points (388). It's a vexing issue for Gary Kubiak's team because clearly it isn't as if the Texans are bereft of talent. Quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) threw for more than 4,700 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first full 16-game season, and receiver Andre Johnson(notes) may be the best in the business.
The problem is not in the passing game – Houston ranked first in passing yardage and fifth in passing touchdowns in 2009 – but in the running game. In 2009, the Texans scored just 13 rushing touchdowns on 425 attempts, ranking 18th in the league. Ryan Moats, now with the Vikings, led the team with four rushing touchdowns – he was the team's most successful goal-line back, according to Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) statistic, and Success Rate, which tabulates efficiency based on down and distance. Of those four touchdowns, Moats scored three against the Bills in Week 9. In their two close losses to the Colts, the Texans had 24 shots inside Indy's 20-yard line, and scored a grand total of one rushing touchdown.
In a recent interview for Shutdown Corner, I asked right tackle Eric Winston(notes) about the Texans' red-zone rushing issues, and the perception that zone-blocking teams lose power near the goal line.
"Toward the end of the year, the new guys started to understand that even if the ball was going the other way, they were really still the point of attack and they had to start getting some push," Winston explained. "As a result, I think you saw our run stats go up toward the end of the year, more where we like it."
The 2010 solution: More power!
The Texans running stats did improve as the season progressed. In Weeks 1-9, the Texans were the worst rushing team (per DVOA) in the NFL, and they improved to 16th in the second half of the season. The first of Moats' three touchdowns against the Bills (a team record, by the way) indicate that while the Texans don't run a lot of single-back, two-tight end sets, they should do it more often.
With 14:22 left in the game, Houston lined up at the Buffalo 11-yard line with tight end James Casey(notes) (86) in an H-back look to the right, and tight end Joel Dreessen(notes) (85) on the left side (illustration). Prior to the snap, Casey went in motion from right to left, which took nickel back Reggie Corner(notes) (27) to the other side as well. While the Texans used some zone-blocking principles on this play, specifically in how they used blockers to hit the second level in a hurry, they also doubled their blockers on the left side to blast open a lane. However, the main gambit was Casey coming back to seal the edge against weak-side end Chris Kelsay(notes) (90). Not only did Casey block Kelsay out of the play, but his movement back to his original slot took Corner back and out of tackling range. Corner inexplicably bit on the block direction and the threat of a cutback, and that gave Moats the edge he needed when he hit the linebacker level ahead of all his blockers. Linebacker Paul Posluszny(notes) (51) bit on it as well, which was an odd read for a defense playing a zone-blocking team like Houston that blocks off the weakside edge as much as they do.
With Moats' departure, the Texans will have to develop a new goal-line threat – likely from the trio of Steve Slaton(notes), Arian Foster(notes) or rookie Ben Tate(notes). But As Winston intimated, the Texans have the pieces in place to get better results in the red zone. With a dynamic offense and an improved defense in place, it's the only thing standing between the Texans and their first-ever playoff berth. The key will be how new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison uses power-blocking in the right places.