How Texans rookie RB Dameon Pierce has helped revamp NFL's worst rushing attack

HOUSTON -- “D.P. for president.”

Those are the words right tackle Tytus Howard and left tackle Laremy Tunsil said as they sat side by side at their lockers after the Houston Texans had won their first game of the season Sunday.

“D.P.” stands for Dameon Pierce -- the Texans’ fourth-round pick out of Florida last April who has helped revamp Houston's rushing attack. Pierce and the defense helped the Texans (1-3-1) knock off the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3), 13-6.

Pierce rushed for 99 yards, and with the game knotted at 6-6, he scored the game-winning touchdown with 3:11 to go.

Pierce is first among rookies in rushing yards (412) and touchdowns (three). But he hasn’t only been one of the top rookie running backs, he’s been one of the best at the position. He’s currently fifth in the NFL in rushing.

The highlight play of Week 5 occurred with 5:02 remaining on second-and-5 from the Jaguars' 22-yard line. After receiving the handoff from quarterback Davis Mills, Pierce shed multiple defenders en route to a 20-yard gain. He broke six tackles and ran for 22 yards after contact to get the Texans to the 2-yard line before scoring a few plays later.

During that big run, Pierce only had one thing on his mind: “Go, country boy, go."

"It’s all about getting that touchdown," Pierce said. "I know I had them big boys coming defensively. They were going to rally behind me at some point, so I tried to fight and get in the end zone."

What was most impressive about Pierce’s performance was during 22 of his 26 carries, he faced a seven- or eight-man box. Those 22 carries were tied with New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara for the most in Week 5, and despite the extra help in the box, Pierce still managed 78 yards.

Pierce’s early success led Texans receiver Brandin Cooks to proclaim there’s “no question,” in his mind, that his running back is the leader for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

But coach Lovie Smith took a different approach.

“It’s a little early,” Smith said with a smile. “He’s a rookie, and he’s playing well. I haven’t seen all of the rookies out there. I just know that our rookie, we’ve loved him from the start. It’s not a bandwagon-type thing. We believed in this guy and what he can do. He’s letting other people kind of see it a little bit.

"Again, for us to be talking that way, the offensive line and the guys that are blocking for him, they have to be doing their job. I just know after a quarter of football, we like where he is. Much more to go, but I like the way he’s trending.”

The way the Texans offensive approach is heading, Pierce is becoming the workhorse.

Over the last three games, Pierce has become the engine of a balanced attack. He’s averaging 20 carries per game, third-most in the league over that span, while quarterback Davis Mills is averaging 30 pass attempts (20th).

“Anytime you got a running back who can run the ball the way that he does, it opens up everything for your offense,” Cooks said.

Heading into their Week 6 bye, the Texans are currently tied for 22nd in rushing yards per game (99.2) with the Los Angeles Chargers and rank 26th in passing yards (192).

Pierce's 4.8 yards per carry has helped bolster a rushing attack that ranked second to last in 2020 (91 yards per game) and last in 2021 (83 per game).

"That mentality that he brings the energy that he brings, it's contagious. He’s never done running," Cooks said. "Even when it looks a little muddy or whatever the case may be, he’s able to pretty much find a way.”