HOUSTON -- As the Houston Texans creep toward the end of the season, coach David Culley said the team’s struggling running game is still a work in progress.
“Obviously, it’s not been very good,” Culley said. “The thing that we’ve got to continue to do is just figure out what is best for our people, what they do best, and do those things instead of doing runs that we feel like are good runs, but our personnel may not fit those runs.”
In Sunday’s 33-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Texans were without running back David Johnson, who was put on the COVID-19 list that morning, and lost running back Rex Burkhead to a hip injury during the game.
Because the Texans traded Mark Ingram II in October, put Scottie Phillips on injured reserve on Nov. 9 and waived Phillip Lindsay two weeks later, Houston was down to running back Royce Freeman after Burkhead’s injury.
Freeman ran for 15 yards on 15 carries, and the team combined to average 2.5 yards per rush in the game.
Center Justin Britt said he thought the Texans did have that balance in the first half, but once they got down, they “had to get away from the run game pretty quick.”
The Texans will get Johnson back after activating him from the COVID-19 list Monday, but Culley said Burkhead is “day-to-day” with his hip injury. Phillips, who has a leg injury, is “much, much better,” Culley said, “but he’s not there yet.”
“With our running back situation right now, we may have to limit that even more as far as what we do in the running game,” Culley said. “We’ve just got to continue to see what we do best, which has not been a lot right now, and just continue to get better at doing what we feel like we do best.”
Houston, who ranks last in Football Outsiders’ rush DVOA, is averaging a league-worst 77.5 rushing yards per game. Despite playing in only seven games for Houston, Ingram’s 294 rushing yards on 92 carries may lead the team at the end of the season.
The struggling run game has put “a lot of pressure” on rookie quarterback Davis Mills, Culley said.
“That’s why we’ve got to figure out a way to get it right for him,” Culley said. “I thought he did a good job of handling what he had to handle.
“We don’t want to come out of ballgames having thrown a ball 49 times. Obviously, we threw the ball that much simply because it got out of hand there in the fourth quarter. But that’s not where we want to end up, and what we want to do.”
Wide receiver Chris Conley pointed to two of the longer passes Mills was able to complete Sunday as examples of when Houston was able to get some of Seattle’s linebackers to step up, which “really opens up things behind you.”
“Each of those were instances where we got the backers to move, or at least pause their feet for a second, to get those guys open,” Conley said. “So, that definitely helps. We have to do a better job of continuing to get that movement and or control regardless of who is in the game at running back.”