2011 Season in Review: Running Backs

A position-by-position look at the Texans’ 2011 season

The Texans had the top running back tandem in the NFL in 2011. and both finished in the top-20 in rushing – Foster fifth with 1,224 yards, Tate 19th with 942. No other team in the league had even two 800-yard rushers.

Foster made the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season and earned second-team All-Pro honors despite missing two-and-a-half of the first three games with a hamstring injury. He led the NFL with 141.6 yards from scrimmage per game and was the only running back with two 100-yard receiving games.

Foster had seven 100-yard rushing games, including 155 yards against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense and 111 against Atlanta’s sixth-ranked run defense. He was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October. He was third in the AFC with 12 total touchdowns, and his 285 rushing yards in the playoffs were the most by any player in his first two playoff games in NFL history.

Tate ranked seventh in the NFL with 5.4 yards per carry, just 0.2 yards behind league-leader Cam Newton. After missing his entire rookie season with an ankle injury, he became the 11th player in NFL history with back-to-back 100-yard games to start his pro career. He had four 100-yard games in 2011.

had 45 carries for 154 yards (3.4 average) and two touchdowns as the Texans’ third running back. Chris Ogbonnaya and Steve Slaton saw limited action for the Texans early in the season before being released.

Converted tight end began the season as the Texans’ starting fullback. He lined up at multiple positions and had five catches for 126 yards, a team record for a running back, in Week 3 at New Orleans. Casey suffered a pectoral injury in Week 5 against the Raiders, and became entrenched in the lineup after several strong lead-blocking performances.

Running Backs in Review
Starters: RB: Arian Foster (15 games – 2 in playoffs), Ben Tate (2 games), Derrick Ward (1 game) / FB: James Casey (7 games), Lawrence Vickers (1 game)

Newcomers: Vickers (free agent)

Injuries: Foster (hamstring, Weeks 1-3), Tate (groin, Week 5), Ward (ankle, Weeks 2-4), Casey (chest, Weeks 5-7)

Notable number: 5 – Players since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. Foster became the fifth in 2011, joining Brian Westbrook (2006-07), Thurman Thomas (1991-92), Marshall Faulk (1998-2001) and Priest Holmes (2001-03).

Key splits: The Texans were 9-2 in 2011 when rushing 30 or more times. They are 32-5 (.865 winning percentage) overall when running the ball 30 or more times under Gary Kubiak over the last six seasons. They’re 3-30 when rushing less than 25 times.

The Texans scored five touchdowns on 16 trips to the red zone (31.25 percent) in their first three games, which ranked 30th in the NFL. After Foster returned in Week 4, they scored on 22 of 44 (50 percent) trips inside the 20.

Season highlight: Week 7 vs. Tennessee – Foster and Tate both ran for more than 100 yards, the first such occurrence in team history, as the Texans routed their division rivals 41-7 at LP Field. Foster had 115 rushing yards, 119 receiving yards and three touchdowns, becoming the fourth player since 1970 with three touchdowns and 100 rushing and receiving yards in the same game. Tate had 104 yards on just 15 carries (6.9 average).

Season lowlight: Week 6 vs. Baltimore – The Texans had 25 carries for 93 yards (3.7 average), one of three times all season they failed to top 100 yards. They had the ball for just 27:48, their second-lowest time of possession of the season. Foster was limited to 49 yards on 15 carries (3.3 average) and dropped two passes, including one on third down in Ravens territory with 11 minutes remaining. Tate had nine carries for 41 yards but fumbled inside the red zone.

Quotable: “He’s growing up before our eyes… It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to watch a good player become a pro.” — Kubiak on Tate on Sept. 18, after Tate ran for 103 yards in the Texans’ victory at Miami, his second consecutive 100-yard game in place of Foster

“He’s a special player, and he does a lot of things other backs can’t and he sees things other backs don’t… That last touchdown he had kind of took the wind out of their sails.” – Left tackle on Foster Oct. 2, after Foster ran for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh

“I played terrible. I didn’t play a good game; it was obvious. That will never happen again. I played a bad game. It doesn’t matter what the variables are; I played a bad game. As a football player, I didn’t bring my A-game.” – Foster on Oct. 16, after the Texans’ loss at Baltimore

“Once he gets the ball in his hands, it’s hard to bring him down. If you’re in open space and it’s one-on-one, he’s going to win that battle nine of 10 times.” — Schaub on Foster on Oct. 23, after Foster turned a short pass into a 78-yard touchdown at Tennessee

“I guess he just thought I was going to go out of bounds, but I didn’t.” – Foster on Jan. 7, after tiptoeing down the right sideline past Bengals safety Chris Crocker on a 42-yard touchdown run in the Texans’ Wild Card playoff victory

“He’s kind of like Houdini back there. I call him Abracadabra. You never know what’s going to happen with him.” — Vickers on Foster on Jan. 12

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Barwin named AFC Defensive Player of the Month

Houston Texans OLB was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month after leading the AFC in sacks and helping the Texans to a 3-0 record in November. Barwin is the second Texan to win player of the month honors this season, joining RB , who was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October.

Barwin led the AFC with 6.5 sacks and helped the Texans defense hold its opponents to a League-low 219.3 yards per game and 11.3 points per game, which was second in the League during the three-game span. Barwin accounted for nearly half of a Texans pass rush that registered 15 sacks, one off the League lead for the month.  He recorded at least one sack in each game in November.

In Week 9 vs. Cleveland, Barwin had a sack for 4 yards and followed that up with 1.5 sacks for 7.5 yards in Week 10 at Tampa Bay.  After the Texans’ bye week, Barwin set a franchise record with 4.0 sacks in Week 12 at Jacksonville.

Barwin leads the Texans’ top-ranked defense with 8.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hits in his first season playing linebacker. The 6-4, 264-pound third-year player played defensive end his first two seasons before making the switch to outside linebacker in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme.

Barwin is fifth player in franchise history to win a player of the month award and the second defensive player to win the award. Former Texans safety Marcus Coleman was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month in September of 2003.

List of Texans AFC Player of the Month Award Winners:

Connor Barwin (Defensive), November 2011
Arian Foster (Offensive), October 2011
Arian Foster (Offensive), September 2010
(Offensive), October 2008
Marcus Coleman (Defensive), September 2003
Chad Stanley (Special Teams), September 2002

Bye Week Review: Dominant running game leads offense


Ten games into the 2011 season, the Texans’ offense could easily be defined by injuries to its marquee players. Instead, the story has been how well the offense has performed despite those injuries.

Lose 2010 NFL rushing leader to a hamstring injury for two of the first three games? No problem. The Texans went 2-1, averaging 400.7 yards and 30.0 points per game.

Lose All-Pro wide receiver to a hamstring injury for six games from Weeks 5-10? Meh. The Texans went 4-2, averaging 407.0 yards and 27.7 points.

Lose quarterback to a foot injury in Week 10? How the Texans respond with under center remains to be seen. But if the way they’ve overcome adversity all season long is any indication, they should be just fine.

Foster, Johnson and Schaub have played together for a grand total of three-and-a-half quarters this season, but the Texans rank eighth in offense (396.2 yards/game) and fifth in scoring (27.3). The catalyst has been their third-ranked running game (158.1). Foster and both rank in the top-10 in the league in rushing yards, and the Texans lead the NFL in average time of possession (33:51).

Schaub’s completion percentage (61.0) is down from his career average, but he ranks sixth in the NFL in passer rating (96.8) and second in yards per attempt (8.49, a career-high). He has thrown 15 touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Texans are optimistic that Leinart can play with similar efficiency.

Tight end leads the team with 478 yards on 37 catches. Foster is right behind him with 445 yards on 31 catches. Johnson, in less than four games, has 25 catches for 352 yards. Six different Texans players – Daniels, tight end , Foster, Johnson and wide receivers and – have two or more receiving touchdowns.

On to the HoustonTexans.com Bye Week Offensive Awards:

MVP: Arian Foster

Foster has been nothing short of sensational since overcoming his hamstring injury. He has topped 100 yards rushing and/or receiving in six of seven games, which includes three 100-yard receiving games. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October after piling up 809 yards from scrimmage, third-most in October in NFL history. At his current per-game pace, he’s on track for 1,295 rushing yards, 779 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns despite missing two-and-a-half games at the start of the season.

Unsung hero: Offensive line

The driving force behind the Texans’ dominant running game is an offensive line that runs like a well-oiled machine. Center , tackles and and guards and have started every game this season. Myers was named a team captain at midseason but declined to wear the “C” patch because he didn’t want the attention. That epitomizes this cohesive group that revels in anonymity as it springs gaping holes for Foster and Tate. None of the Texans’ linemen have ever been selected to a Pro Bowl, but that’s bound to change if the final six games of the season are anything like the first 10.

Breakout player: Ben Tate

After missing his rookie season with an ankle injury, Tate wasted no time in showing why the Texans used a second-round pick on him last year. Stepping in for Foster, he ran for 100 yards in both of the first two games of the season, becoming the 11th player in NFL history to start his career with back-to-back 100-yard games. He has two 100-yard games since Foster’s return, providing power, explosion and big-play ability off the bench. Tate ranks 10th in the league in rushing (686 yards), fourth in yards per carry (5.6) and second in runs of 10 yards or more (27).

Top individual performance: Arian Foster at Tennessee (Week 7)

All Foster did against the Titans was rush for 115 yards on 25 carries (4.6 average), catch five passes for 119 yards and score three touchdowns, becoming the fourth player since 1970 with 100 yards rushing and receiving and three touchdowns in one game. His career-long 78-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter put the Texans up 17-0. He followed that with two rushing touchdowns in the second half as the Texans cruised to a 41-7 victory.

Top team performance: At Tennessee (Week 7)

In the most lopsided victory in team history, the Texans put up their most yards (518) and points (41) of the season. Foster and Tate both had 100 rushing yards. The Texans controlled the clock for 37:58. Schaub was 18-of-23 passing for 296 and two touchdowns with a career-high 147.7 rating. Seven different receivers caught a pass. The Texans scored on five consecutive possessions after punting on their first two.

Injury to watch: Matt Schaub (foot)

The Texans will know next week whether Schaub has a chance to return this season. He’ll visit doctors from Charlotte, N.C., and Indianapolis to see if he can avoid having season-ending surgery. Either way, his injury puts the spotlight squarely on Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner and 2006 first-round pick who hasn’t started a game since 2009. Leinart has not thrown a pass in his two seasons in Houston, but the Texans’ play-action-heavy offense suits his skill set. Texans coaches and players are confident he can pick up where Schaub left off and keep the team marching toward the playoffs.


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