In 2009, the Texans attempted 593 passes and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt. Only three teams threw the ball more. On the ground, Houston attempted 425 runs, but averaged a measly 3.5 yards per carry. The Colts also averaged 3.5 per rush, and only the Chargers -- two pretty good offensive teams -- were worse on an average per rush basis. The Texans also ranked 20th overall in their number of rushing attempts. Nine teams scored more points than Houston.
The Texans were minus-1 in turnover ratio, and although their running backs had collective fumbling problems in 2009, surely running the ball more would help that equation. The ball security does need to be improved, as does their ability to take the ball away on defense, where they created only 14 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles. But still, an enhanced ground game would help Houston possess the football while making it a more physical team.
That goes for both sides of the ball, as the defense would stay fresher if the Texans controlled the clock with more regularity. The Texans are not known for being able to eat clock when they have a lead or to consistently bury their opponent. Clearly a better rushing attack would help in this regard. Another area where it would help is in the red zone, where Houston was pretty average through the air and on the ground.
Although Indianapolis and San Diego obviously proved last year that you can have a very effective offense in today’s NFL even without much of a running game, I am a believer in more offensive balance for reasons stated above and several others. For one, the threat of a downhill running game would open up more play-action possibilities, which in turn, should lead to more big plays when safeties bite ever so slightly on the run fakes. Clearly Houston has the weapons to take advantage of such a situation. And, a bolstered rushing attack could very much lighten coverage on Andre Johnson, making it far more difficult to double the star receiver.
The run blocking wasn’t stellar, but I blame the runners more than the blocking for Houston’s woes in 2009. Of the options in the backfield, it is Arian Foster whom I am most confident can sustain a substantial running game. This rushing attack does not have to be dynamic or among the league’s best, but a back like Foster will take what is given -- often against seven-man fronts -- while bringing ruggedness to the position. Steve Slaton is best suited as a change-of-pace runner who could make some big plays on throwing downs or after a defense has been accustomed to defending Foster. It would be nice to see coach Gary Kubiak define the roles in the backfield and stick with it.
Obviously Houston has a very good offense. Although the overall points scored statistic might not jump up drastically with a better rushing attack, the results would be noticeable in other ways. But if Houston runs the ball like it did a year ago, the team can forget about making the playoffs.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.