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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McNair talks labor negotiations, rules changes

Texans chairman and CEO Bob McNair returned to Houston on Tuesday afternoon from the NFL meetings in New Orleans.

In addition to presenting financial reports at the meetings as part of the league’s Finance Committee, McNair voted in favor of two rules changes that were passed by an overwhelming majority of the owners. Kickoffs will now be at the 35-yard line instead of the 30, and players on the kickoff coverage team will have to line up within five yards of the 35 to eliminate long running starts. The other rule change allows replay officials to review scoring plays at any time during games.

On Wednesday morning, McNair talked with HoustonTexans.com about the rules changes, the state of labor negotiations and more.

How do you feel about the changes to the kickoff and replay rules?

“I think that what we’ve done makes sense. The overriding issue on the rules that we’ve been working on really relate to player safety and trying to figure out how to make the game safer for the players without taking the excitement of the game away from the fans. So that’s a fine line that you walk. This is a contact sport. It’s a very physical sport, and that’s the attraction. And so you can’t take contact away, but we want to try to manage the game in such a way that even though contact might be violent, it might not be creating injuries.”

What do you think about concerns that kickoffs might not be exciting any more?

“Well, we had the kickoffs from the 35 for years, and it was pretty exciting, so I think it’ll still be exciting. But we have a very high percentage of the serious injuries that occur in a game occur on kickoffs. And I think the instance of those injuries is about twice as high as it is on other type of plays, a running play or a normal passing play. And even punts; we don’t have nearly the injuries on punts as we do on kickoffs.”

After meeting with owners and executives from around the league, what are your thoughts on where we stand with the lockout/CBA situation?

“It’s clear that all of the owners want to go back to the negotiating table. We just don’t believe that we’re going to reach an agreement through litigation. That’s going to be long and drawn out and not the proper way to do it. So we have been asking the players to come back to the negotiating table and sit down and start discussing the various issues that we have disagreement on.”

What would you say to fans and others who are eager to see a deal get done?

“Well, I think that the teams are anxious to get something done. We want to get the players back and start our offseason programs. And all of our scouts and coaches and what have you, they’re all working full-time now. We haven’t missed a beat so far. So we’re ready to do it, but it takes two to negotiate. We can’t negotiate with ourselves. Until they agree to come back to the negotiating table, it’s really up to the players.”

Speaking of the offseason, what’s on your schedule moving forward?

“We’re still looking at the draft and we’re looking at free agents. We’re doing the sort of things that we normally do this time of the year. Unfortunately, it’s not a vacation for any of us. Everybody is still working very hard, and I don’t see that changing, because once we get back to the negotiating table and reach some agreement – and we’ll reach an agreement; it’s just a question of when – then we need to be in a position to start playing very soon thereafter. And so you have to be prepared.”

How excited are you about the upcoming draft, and in particular to see what type of players Wade Phillips and the defensive staff might bring in?

“It is exciting, because everybody’s got different ideas as to how you accomplish things. I like the way Wade looks at things. It’s a little different. He’s not quite as structured as some people are. He really looks at it on the basis of number one, are they a football player? And too often because we get so technical and we have the combine and we do all these drills in which everybody is measured against everybody else – that’s fine, you see how they stack up in the drills, but that’s not playing football. He pays attention to those things. If you can get the perfect player who is just the perfect dimensions and also can play football, that’s wonderful, but there are a lot of football players that are good players that maybe they’re a defensive lineman but they’re not 6-4; maybe they’re six feet. And maybe they don’t weight 330, they weigh 290, but they make up for maybe a difference in size with speed or agility or courage or hustle or who knows what. And then that’s what shows up on the playing field, and that determines whether we think somebody’s a player or not.”

The Final Four is coming to Reliant Stadium next weekend. Should be great for the city, shouldn’t it?

“Absolutely. It’s a big event, and you’ve got people coming in from all over the country and tremendous television coverage and discussion. I think it’s great we have it in Houston. It’s a beautiful time of the year. I think frankly, it helps us in terms of our efforts to get another Super Bowl, just to get all these people here and let them see what a nice city Houston really is.”