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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Smith’s “long, lovely road” leads to Hawaii

HONOLULU — The question posed to Texans defensive end caused him to pause, look down beneath his white AFC Pro Bowl visor and wipe his right brow with his left index finger.

Almost as soon as he took down his hand as if to start speaking, Smith picked it back up and wiped his brow a few more times before finally looking up with a composed smile.

“You almost made a ninja cry right there for just a second,” Smith said.

The question posed to Smith, a first-time Pro Bowler and self-proclaimed “Ninja Assassin,” was about what Texans coach Gary Kubiak had said about him a few minutes earlier, after the AFC’s Thursday morning Pro Bowl practice at the joint Pearl Harbor-Hickam Air Force Base.

“I’m just very proud of him,” Kubiak said. “He’s come a long way from us picking him up a couple years ago (as a free agent) to now sitting here playing in the Pro Bowl. I had a great moment with him last night at the little (luau) they had, just telling him how proud I am of how far he’s come as a pro. It’s what you want as a coach. You want to see guys like that do well.”

Kubiak’s original relaying of that message a night earlier clearly struck a chord with Smith.

“That’s like, one of the best things you could have as a player, is to know that your coach is proud of you and he’s got your back, and that’s one thing that he let me know last night is that he was proud of everything I did,” Smith said.

“I remember the first time I got here (in 2009), me and him, we bumped heads about working out in the stadium. (He said), ‘Well, you know if you maybe come to offseason workouts, you might be in the Pro Bowl by now!’ And I never really forgot that. And now I see. I’ve been coming faithfully every year since I’ve been here with Ced (strength and conditioning coach Cedric Smith), and it paid off.”

Smith is one of three Texans players at the 2012 Pro Bowl. He finished second on Houston’s second-ranked defense this season with a career-high 6.5 sacks, including at least half a sack in each of the first five games. He was a defensive captain for the second consecutive season.

His first trip to the Pro Bowl is a far cry from the beginning of his NFL career. A fifth-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2004, Smith was cut twice in his first two seasons. He spent much of 2004-05 on the Cardinals’ practice squad, sandwiched around a stint in NFL Europe with the Hamburg Sea Devils in the spring of 2005.

Smith was promoted from the Cardinals’ practice squad to active roster in October 2005. He started eight games that season, eight games the following season and no less than 10 games in each of the five seasons since.

“Man, it’s been a long road, but it’s been a lovely road,” Smith said on Thursday. “I wouldn’t have it no other way than hard. I’m an underdog. This is how life be. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s fun. I’m blessed.”

After a standout 2008 postseason with the Cardinals during their run to Super Bowl XLIII, Smith signed a lucrative free agent contract with the Texans in 2009.

“I’m very proud of him,” Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, Smith’s teammate from 2004-08 who’s at his fifth Pro Bowl, said on Thursday. “He was a heck of a player when he was with us. It’s just unfortunate that he had to get away from us at the time that he did because I really did believe that he was developing into one of the top defensive linemen in the league.

“I think it’s (his) tenacity. He’s relentless. I think he understands techniques and how to use his hands. How it is in the trenches, man, you’ve got to have one guy that’s a dog, and he was our dog.”

Wilson also is impressed by Smith’s new off-field persona. He watched amusedly as Smith stalked around the field in a red ninja mask during the NFC practice on Thursday, interviewing players as a correspondent for NFL Network.

“It’s a good get-up that he’s got going,” Wilson said. “He’s really grown into his own character-wise. When he was in Arizona, he wasn’t doing that. He’s more animated now than ever before.”

Considering how far Smith has come to get to this point in his career, it’s hard to blame him.

“It’s going lovely out here,” Smith said. “I just think that it’s a blessing to even be here. The lord has dun’ blessed me and been gracious on me to play football and do it for a living. Getting to meet everybody, the scenery of Hawaii and the fact that I’m in the Pro Bowl, It’s kind of a big deal.”

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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