The Houston Texans may have the best running back in the NFL and probably have the best one-two punch of running backs in the league. They also have a very good offensive line that has been healthy and played together for a couple of seasons now.
In addition to that, they have a terrible receiving corps outside of Andre Johnson. In their dominating win against the Titans, Texans receivers combined for a total of 75 yards between four different receivers. Without Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub has no one on the outside that he can depend on to stretch the field and open up the underneath routes or move a safety back to help the running game.
Schaub has been forced to rely on Arian Foster and Owen Daniels as his primary targets with Johnson out. While this works to some extent, it can’t be the focus of an offense. The offense must focus on the running game, with or without Johnson in the lineup.
Establishing a team as a running team has numerous benefits. The Texans are a team without a true identity. They aren’t currently a running team (like the Steelers were) or a passing team (like the Saints or Colts with Manning), and they aren’t a defensive team (like the Ravens). They need an identity that they can rely on and build on.
In the last 10 years the only team in the Super Bowl that didn’t have a clearly defined identity was the 2008 Giants. That’s one out of 20 teams.
If they become a run-first team, that helps the offensive line get into rhythm, and it gets both Foster and Tate the touches that they want or need in order to be effective. Foster is at the very least a top-three back in the NFL and needs at least 20 touches per game. If Tate gets 15 touches per game, that makes the Texans a better team and reduces the number of interceptions that Schaub will throw.
In games that the Texans have won, they have averaged almost 40 rushing attempts per game. In games that they have lost, they average 25 rushes per game.
While the fact that the team that is trailing at the end of the game is more likely to pass can’t be ignored, it holds less relevance in this particular situation because the Texans weren’t blown out. In fact in the three games that they lost, they had the lead until 7:10, 14:50 and 8:45 in the fourth quarter. They clearly were within one score at that point and did not need to abandon the run game in any way, shape or form.
The ability to run the ball also allows the Texans to control the clock and rest their defense. In the games that the Texans have run the ball more than 35 times, they average about 35 minutes of ball control, which means their opponent has only 25 minutes to put points up on the board. In the three games that they have limited the opponent to 25 minutes or fewer, the opponents are averaging nine points per game.
If the Texans become a true run-first team, the wide receivers and tight ends will also benefit. The more the Texans run, the more other teams will walk a safety into the box, and the more explosive plays the wide receivers will see in the passing game.
If head coach Gary Kubiak can commit to the run, he has enough talent on the team to make it work and gain a lot of advantages from the scheme. He should believe in the zone blocking scheme that he had learned in Denver and has used effectively in Houston.