Every year for the past five years the NFL’s leading rusher has taken a noticeable step back, on average 541 yards less than the previous year. Lucky for you and me the Texans are extremely well equipped to handle any such drop off. First and foremost it should be noted that the numbers are slightly skewed because of Shaun Alexander’s injury but that only emphasizes the importance of keeping Arian healthy. The best way to do this is to share the load and make sure that he stays fresh.
2005 Shaun Alexander 1880- 896 (-984) 370/252 (-118)
2006 LT 1815- 1474 (-341) 348/315 (-32)
2007 LT 1474- 1110 (-364) 315/292 (-27)
2008 Adrian Peterson 1760 – 1383 (-377) 363/314 (-49)
2009 Chris Johnson 2006 – 1364 (-640) 358/316 (-42)
2010 Arian Foster 1616 – ? (avg 53.6)
As Texans fans we need to look back no further than Steve Slaton for a reason to worry about players maintaining a level of excellence. Slaton led the AFC in rushing yards his rookie year with over 1650 yards from scrimmage and in the offseason he added muscle to his frame to make him more durable. But when he got back on the field the quick burst that made him so dynamic was noticeably missing and injuries he had half as many rushing attempts he quickly fell from grace with the Texans coaching staff. The upside was that by the end of the season the Texans were experimenting with their depth and found Foster
Derrick Ward was an unexpected boost when the Texans picked him up as free agent last year. Ward was one of the most effective backs in the league last year averaging a ridiculous 6.3 yards per carry (second only to Jamaal Charles, out of UT, among backs with at least 50 carries). If the Texans can use Ward more in his second year in the system they can keep Arian fresher and more importantly healthy enough to keep toting the rock. But the Texans advantages go well beyond that; they invested a second round pick in Ben Tate who fractured his fibula and tore ligaments in his ankle during the preseason. Tate rushed for over 1300 yards his senior year at Auburn and was a steal for where they got him in the second round. Generally speaking Tate is considered to be more talented than Ward and at 5’11 and 220 lbs he ran a pretty impressive 4.43 forty. Tate also fits very well into the one cut system that Kubiak runs and with a year under his belt to understand the philosophy behind what Kubiak and Dennison are doing he should be able to make a quick transition onto the playing field despite the lockout and the loss of any OTA’s or preseason games. Despite all of this let’s be very clear, Arian is the man and everyone else is picking up what carries he isn’t taking.
Unlike Ben Tate the entire defense has been revamped with a new scheme, new players, and new positions for the players that have been here and they will desperately need all the help that they can get, and the best way to help a defense is to hold onto the ball. Time of possession will be key for the Texans this year and that means more carries for Arian, Ward, and Tate no matter how you split them up. They will need to put together long drives that come away with points to rest their defense and try to make the opposing offense one dimentinal, because as we have seen in the past Wade’s defense can get to the quarterback if they can pin their ears back and just go.
The one thing that could slow down the rushing attack is if Vonta Leach does not return. Leach was named first team All-NFL last year as he did an amazing job of dropping fools who dared to lay a hand on Arian or Schaub. Several weeks ago, Leach came on SportsRadio 610 to say that he felt like the Texans have not shown him the love that he deserved but there is no reason to believe that once they hammer out a new CBA that the Texans won’t make him one of the most highly compensated fullbacks at his position, and let’s be honest… having Arian Foster run behind you doesn’t hurt.
You know you have a good running game when the biggest threat to it is the fact that you have a Pro Bowl quarterback and arguably the best receiver in the game. The Texans offense should throw up massive numbers next year just as they have done in the past, but what makes it really exciting is that last year the offense didn’t play well for large chunks of many of the games. If they could put together a solid four quarters for all 16 games (or however many games are played) they could be on the verge of challenging the ’98 Vikings or the ’07 Patriots but we will have to wait and see.