HOUSTON -- When the Houston Texans built this roster, they did so with the intention of having a vibrant running game.
That included the presence of three former Pro Bowl selections in the backfield and an unusually high commitment of five running backs on the 53-man roster.
Despite those facts, the results have been extremely underwhelming.
Three games into the season, the 1-2 Texans are averaging 94.7 rushing yards per game to rank 22nd overall in rushing offense. They’re 31st in average yards per carry with 3.3 yards a run.
The Texans gained a season-low 42 yards on the ground on 17 carries for an average of 2.5 yards per run against the Carolina Panthers’ top-ranked defense. The task of establishing a running game to support rookie quarterback Davis Mills doesn’t get easier Sunday on the road against the Buffalo Bills’ seventh-ranked run defense.
Minus 55 rushing yards from injured starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor and two other runs and the Texans’ running backs have combined for 225 rushing yards on 77 carries for 2.92 yards per carry. Overall, the Texans have rushed for 284 yards on 86 carries.
Against the Panthers, the running backs combined for 37 yards on 15 carries.
“Sometimes, it be like that,” said three-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram, the Texans’ leading rusher with 147 yards. "They have a good front. Obviously, they had a good scheme. We just got to find a way to have more success.
"I think every individual is just looking at themselves, looking at the film, correcting the film and seeing what they have to do to change the results. So, I don’t think it’s one rhyme or reason. I think it was a difficult game for us and we just have to find a way to do better.”
Ingram, 31, has the longest run of the season by a Texans running back: an 11-yard play from scrimmage. He’s averaging 49 rushing yards per game. The longest run of the season came on a 29-yard scramble by Taylor, who’s on injured reserve with a Grade 2 strained hamstring.
Ingram’s workload continues to be reduced after gaining 85 yards in a season-opening win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It’s just the team we are playing,” Texans coach David Culley said. “ It just happened that last week we didn’t play very well. We weren’t on the field very long. We didn’t have many plays and that had something to do with why his carries were down, but it was nothing intentional. It just happened because we didn’t play very well and didn’t run the ball very well.”
David Johnson, the Texans’ leading rusher last season has 11 runs this season for 46 yards. He has five catches for 40 yards and one touchdown on six targets. The Texans had the 31st-ranked running game in the NFL last season with Johnson as the primary running back.
And Phillip Lindsay, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher with the Denver Broncos, has 20 carries for 32 yards for an average of 1.6 yards per run. He has one touchdown run and one touchdown catch. The Texans have Rex Burkhead and Scottie Phillips on the roster, but neither player has any carries.
Texans veteran center Justin Britt urged patience with the running game, noting how many new players there are and the need to build timing.
“We just need to stay ahead of the sticks and not let the game start to get away from us where we’re in the position where we have to throw to stay in the game,” Britt said. “ I don’t think there is a need to panic or a drastic change that needs to happen. We just need to stay at it, have a purpose at practice for what we’re doing, have a game plan individually, group, offensively, to go out there and pick one thing to get better at and just work at that.
“It’s something that’s going to come with time. There’s a lot of new pieces. There’s going to be some hiccups. Even the really good run teams will have a day where it’s not the best, so we’re not panicked. We’re not concerned, we just know that we need to not be complacent and we need to come every day with a purpose, and it starts on Wednesday.”
The Texans are averaging 2.93 yards running behind left offensive guard Tytus Howard, a former first-round draft pick who’s a natural right tackle. The running game hasn’t been particularly effective running in any direction other than some success with outside runs.
“I feel like he’s had a lot of time to adjust,” Britt said. “He’s going to have things. You’ll see things in games that you won’t see in practice. You’re going against (Bills defensive tackle) Ed Oliver, you’re going against (Bills defensive tackle) Star (Lotulelei), we don’t practice against those guys.
“Every week you’re going to have a new look, a new opponent, a new way to how they play things. With him, it’s just repetition. He’ll see something one time in a game and it won’t happen again, and vice versa. Just reps, just time. Tytus is a pro, he’s a good pro. There’s a reason why he got drafted high and why he’s here, and why they trust him to play on the left side.”
To provide support for Mills against an aggressive Bills front seven, the running game needs to be cranked up and sustained. That could also keep the defense from being on the field too long and not get tired.
“Always want to have ball control, always want to have control of the time of possession,” Ingram said. “Obviously, when you have a prolific offense that scores a lot of points, the No. 1 asset to that is the run game and taking the ball. You know, time of possession, controlling the ball, moving the sticks, keeping them on the sidelines, keeping your defense rested, giving them limited opportunities to be able to score.
“That’s why it’s so important to be able to move the chains, stay on course, have those drives and sustain drives where their offense is not on the field, that they are on the sideline and our defense is resting and recovering and when they get out there, they can make the plays necessary to slow them down, stop them and get turnovers and give us those extra possessions so we can keep them on the sidelines. I think that will be a big point of emphasis for us.
The Texans had a lot of problems containing disruptive Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown, a former first-round draft pick from Auburn. He was constantly in the Texans’ backfield and broke through blocking attempts.
“Yeah, he was a load,” Britt said. “He’s a good player, he’s going to be for numerous years. That’s another example. We don’t have a guy that size or that stature on this team that can create issues in that way. It’ll be good for us overall to obviously not have a game like we did against Carolina, but to see a defense like and just see different personnel and get the reps against those, it’s going to benefit us down the road.”
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