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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Kubiak-led AFC squad wins Pro Bowl 59-41

KAPOLEI, Hawaii – Texans head coach Gary Kubiak led the AFC to a 59-41 victory in the 2012 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium on Sunday.

The game featured 1,140 yards of offense, including a Pro Bowl-record 596 for the AFC. Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall won game MVP honors after 176 setting a Pro Bowl record with four touchdowns to go along with 176 receiving yards.

“I appreciate the guys’ effort,” Kubiak said. “I understand the drill. I understand we’re out here to make sure everybody’s healthy, but I tell you what, our guys were great all week – not only great players, but great people.

“It’s kind of hard to call plays; you’ve got so many guys that want the ball. But they’re good guys. It’s great for the NFL. It’s my first taste of this, but I really enjoyed it.”

Cornerback , center and defensive end represented the Texans in what was the first-career Pro Bowl for each player.

The Texans’ highlight of the day was an interception by Joseph of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the third quarter. It came on a pass intended for the Falcons’ Roddy White inside the red zone. Joseph returned the ball 26 yards to the AFC 36-yard line.

“It was a slant route, and I kind of had a beat on it,” Joseph said. “I kind of figured it was going to be a slant. I was just worried about making the catch and securing it. I wish I would’ve scored, but I didn’t. Got the ball back for the offense, though.”

Baltimore Ravens fullback Vonta Leach ran for a one-yard touchdown to put the AFC up 45-35 with 11:40 remaining. Kubiak called two consecutive runs for Leach, who played for the Texans from 2006-10, from the six-yard line, and he smiled broadly on the sideline after the score.

“Y’all know he means a lot to me,” Kubiak said. “He kind of was raised in our system and he’s become very successful. Even though we lost him (in free agency), which was tough, we’re happy for him.”

In typical Pro Bowl fashion, the game was tied 28-28 at halftime. Pro Bowl rules generally prohibit defenses from putting pressure on the quarterback, and teams are required to run a 4-3.

Even though Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was unable to run his 3-4 scheme, the AFC managed to limit the NFC to 13 points in the second half. They forced five turnovers, which included a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson with 5:16 left to play.

“We held ‘em to 41 (points), and it wasn’t easy,” Phillips said. “We don’t have many of those. It’s a passing game, and it’s offensive oriented. But we got a lot of interceptions and we got turnovers for touchdowns, so that was kind of fun.”

Joseph finished with three tackles, two passes defensed and one interception.

‘It’s an honor to be here,” Joseph said. “I was an alternate before, and to finally make it, it just kind of says hard work pays off.”

Smith had one tackle. He also had one quarterback hit, knocking Newton out of bounds on an incomplete pass late in the third quarter.

“Sometimes my ninjitsu styles come out when I don’t even want ‘em to,” Smith said. “My fellow Pro Bowl brothers, don’t be mad at me. It’s my alter ego.”

Myers entered the game on offense in the second quarter, replacing starting center Nick Mangold of the New York Jets.

“It’s overwhelming, man,” Myers said. “To be able to come out here and be here and just be here all week and then to culminate in playing in the stadium, seeing all the MVP names and seeing just the history that’s been here, it’s pretty cool. They’re always a high-scoring affair, you always expect that, but it’s pretty nice to get a win on top of that.”

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Turnovers, defensive lapses doom Texans in loss

This time around, the Texans dug themselves a hole too deep.

A week after coming back from a 16-3 first-half deficit at Cincinnati, the Texans trailed the Carolina Panthers 21-0 at halftime on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. They responded with 13 unanswered points but were done in by turnovers and defensive lapses in a 28-13 loss that snapped a seven-game winning streak.

“Congratulations to Carolina,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “They came in here and kicked our butt up and down the field, all three phases. We obviously weren’t ready to play, and that starts with me. We got away with it last week, the same type of play in the first half, and this week we didn’t get away with it.

“We got buried in the first half. We tried to fight our way out of it, but ultimately when you turn the ball over and are as sloppy as we were and give up the big plays we gave up, you’re not gonna win in this league.”

The Texans outgained the Panthers 358-318 but had three turnovers, including two interceptions by rookie quarterback T.J. Yates. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers had zero. It was the first time all season that the Texans did not force a turnover.

Playing without defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who is on a medical leave of absence, the Texans allowed more than 20 points for the first time since Oct. 16 at Baltimore, which is also the last time they lost. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring called the defense in Phillips’ absence.

The Panthers were 9-of-14 (64 percent) on third down. The Texans entered the game fifth in the NFL in defensive third-down percentage (32.3 percent).

“The overall theme for the day was we gave up big plays and there were some discipline parts of the game that we were not very disciplined on as we have been throughout the year,” Herring said. “At the end of the day, they beat us and out-executed us. We obviously didn’t execute very well. To me, the most disappointing thing was the third downs and big plays.”

The Panthers’ three scoring drives in the first half covered an average of 45 yards (26, 61, 48). Each came after a miscue by the Texans that gave Newton and the Panthers a short field.

Running back lost a fumble on the second play of the game. The Panthers recovered at the Houston 26-yard line and scored four plays later on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Newton to wide receiver Steve Smith.

missed a 49-yard field goal late in the first quarter, and the Panthers turned it into a nine-yard touchdown catch by tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Panthers tight end Richie Brockel ran in for a seven-yard touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter on a “fumblerooski” misdirection play on second-and-goal. The score was set up by an interception of Yates by linebacker Jordan Senn, who returned the ball past midfield.

“We came out flat in the first half,” Yates said. “We weren’t moving the ball well. We weren’t doing pretty much anything on offense and (were) giving their offense extra possessions and giving them points.”

Houston’s defense came out on fire in the second half. They limited the Panthers to 18 yards and one first down in the third quarter, but the Texans could muster only two field goals on two trips to the red zone.

The Texans finally got in the end zone two minutes into the fourth quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by Foster. That capped an eight-play, 68-yard drive that Yates started with a scramble up the middle for 15 yards.

Foster’s touchdown got the Texans to within 21-13, but they would get no closer. Newton led the Panthers 80 yards in seven plays on the following drive, taking a 28-13 lead on a 24-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams with 9:59 remaining.

Texans safety returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards. Yates then completed passes of 24 and 22 yards to and Foster, quickly giving the Texans first-and-goal from the 10. But on third-and-goal from the nine, he was picked off in the end zone by linebacker James Anderson.

The Texans didn’t get the ball back from there. Newton ran eight yards for a first down on third-and-eight from the Carolina 5-yard line. On third-and-two from the Houston 43, Newton picked up another first down with a three-yard run. The Panthers then ran out the final three minutes to seal the victory.

“It just seemed that whenever it came down to it today, we weren’t able to make the big play we really needed to,” linebacker said. “We had them in position to come back, stop them again and get the ball back for the offense, and we just didn’t come through. It was kind of the theme the whole day. They were able to hit big plays when they really needed them. “

Foster finished with 109 rushing yards on 16 carries (6.8 average) and 58 receiving yards. Yates was 19-of-30 for 212 yards. Linebacker and nose tackle both had sacks, giving the Texans a team-record 38 on the season. Barwin leads the Texans with a career-high 10.5 sacks.

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