Texans running back Arian Foster tried to shoulder all the blame for another poor rushing performance Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Head coach Gary Kubiak said Monday the ground attack problems can’t be pinpointed to a single person or one area of the offense. The entire offense has a role in what is quickly becoming an eyesore.
But the issue dogging the running game, specifically, and the entire offense, in general, is the absence of star receiver and most feared playmaker Andre Johnson. Without Johnson, one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL has become ordinary, one-dimensional and not very explosive.
The Ravens dropped eight and nine in the box Sunday and dared the Texans to throw. The Oakland Raiders did the same a week ago. And there is a good chance that even if Johnson does return this week from the minor hamstring surgery, the Tennessee Titans will follow the formula that has worked so well the previous two weeks.
“We’re getting played different. There is no doubt about that,” Kubiak acknowledged Monday, a day after his team fell 29-14 to the Ravens to suffer back-to-back defeats. “There is a level of consistency when Andre is on the field with what people try to do.”
Teams know from experience that if you don’t double or triple cover Johnson that the All-Pro receiver will burn you deep. That threat hasn’t been there since Johnson went down in the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers and it’s been tough going for the Texans offense since.
Foster, who looked well on his way to another NFL rushing title after trampling the Steelers for 155 yards in his first complete game of the season, has not found much daylight on the front end or on cutback runs. That’s forced the Texans to almost exclusively passing to move the ball with any effectiveness, which is starting to take a toll on quarterback Matt Schaub.
The Texans quarterback was visibly limping during the second half Sunday after the Ravens battered and beat him while standing in the pocket. Schaub has injuries to his chest and hip, though he is still expected to play Sunday at Nashville.
But you have wonder how much more can he take?
The Texans desperately need players like receivers Jacoby Jones, Kevin Walter or Derrick Mason to become enough of a deep threat to back the safeties out of the box. Unfortunately that doesn’t develop overnight or over a few games. All three have shown they are capable of making plays, but not that kind that will scare teams out of single coverage on the wideouts.
Right now, tight end Owen Daniels is the one commanding the double coverage attention, which does little in opening up the offense.
“I think in some of these situations that we’ve been in, I hope these guys aren’t looking for him because he’s not out there,” Kubiak said of the offense playing without Johnson. “Somebody else has got to step up and make that play. We’re in the situation we’re in until he gets back. We’ve got to find a way to work through it.”
Honestly, the only way through it is for Johnson to return soon and be at the level he was before the injury to his hamstring. That is the only way the ground game is going to get back to what is accustomed.
Right now there are just more defenders in the box than there are Texans to block them. The Ravens front was able to swarm to both Ben Tate and Foster every time they touched the football, grounding the Texans rushing attack to 93 yards on 25 attempts for just 3.7 yards per run.
It was the second straight week that one of the top rushing offenses has held to under 100 yards rushing after the Raiders limited the Texans to just 70 yards and 2.8 yards per carry last week.
“We’ve got to run the ball better for our football team to be successful,” said Kubiak, whose 3-3 team plays Tennessee for first place in the AFC South. “Our guys know that, so my challenge is for it to get better and I think it’s got to get better with everybody.”
No, Johnson has just got to get better.