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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Notes: Brisiel’s recovery, Tate’s big season

Notes from the Texans’ practice and locker room on Thursday at Reliant Stadium:

No change in backups
T.J. Yates has started the previous four games at quarterback, and is now backed up by and . He’ll start again Sunday against the Titans, and according to head coach Gary Kubiak, Delhomme is still second on the depth chart.

“I think Jake’s a little bit ahead just because he had about a week head start, so one’s four weeks, one’s three weeks with us,” Kubiak said of the difference between the two behind Yates. “That’s not a lot of time, but they’re both working very hard at it and if something happened to T.J., they could go in and operate. Obviously we couldn’t operate at full throttle with what we do offensively, but they’ve made a lot of progress.”

Brisiel getting well
Right guard continues his rehab of an ankle/lower leg injury he suffered against the Bengals. It’s an injury that’s been described as very similar to safety ’s and according to Kubiak, Brisiel is doing “exceptional” in his recuperation.

“He’s a little over two weeks out of the surgery,” Kubiak said. “He is doing field work, so everything is geared up towards him possibly playing next week. I would be wrong to make a statement on that right now, but he is making progress.”

Manning left the Titans’ game in Week 7, and returned to start against Jacksonville in Week 12.

Tate’s big season
With more than 800 yards rushing as a backup, running back ’s enjoyed a fine 2011. His rookie year was lost due to a leg injury he suffered in the 2010 preseason opener at Arizona, but since Week 1, Tate has contributed this season.

“I thank God,” Tate said. “It’s a blessing and I thank him every day for it. I come back, had I think a pretty good year. So, if I get a thousand yards or not, to me, I think it’ll be a very, very successful year for me.”

Tate was asked about cracking the 1,000 yard mark, and he said it would be tough to pick up the 155 yards he needs, with in front of him.

Quotable
“Division matchups are always finicky.”—Right tackle on playing the Titans for the second time this season.

“We emphasize it every week and the amazing thing about it, as bad as it was, we still had our chance, in my opinion, to win the last two games. So, we got to stay positive here.”—Head coach Gary Kubiak on if he’s re-emphasized the importance of converting on third down.

Notes: Yates and crowd noise

*Watch head coach Gary Kubiak’s Monday press conference LIVE on Texans TV at 3:30 p.m. CT.

T.J.’s Day
The play, and potential, of rookie quarterback T.J. Yates was the main topic of discussion all week long heading into the contest against Atlanta. The 2011 fifth-round pick from North Carolina guided the Texans’ offense to a victory, as he finished with 188 passing yards and a quarterback rating of 86.8. He threw a second-quarter touchdown pass to tight end to give the Texans a 10-0 advantage, and he didn’t turn the ball over.

“I’m happy, I’m proud of him,” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “He did a hell of a job. He handled the football team very well.”

Yates’ teammates were complimentary as well, and tight end was impressed with the rookie’s demeanor.

“He’s so cool in the huddle, so confident in the huddle, ever after he’s taken hits,” Daniels said. “I know he was getting coached up hard, but you’ve got to go out there and do the job. He handled it really well.”

Yates and the offense chewed up nearly 11 minutes during a 19-play, 85-yard scoring drive that began near the end of the third quarter, and bled into the middle of the fourth. The touchdown to cap it was nice, but so was the bit of rest it gave the defense.

“Drive of the game, probably drive of the year,” linebacker said. “I thought T.J. handled that awesome. That’s what the defense needed: a big breather.”

The extent of how well Yates played individually on Sunday might be up for debate to some, but when asked to grade out the rookie’s performance, running back put it simply.

“I would give him a W for the win,” Tate said. “That’s all that matters.”

Loud Crowd
According to a few members of the Texans’ defense, the fans inside Reliant Stadium were a big help in getting a victory. Several times, Atlanta quarterback had to audible, and that task was made a bit more difficult by the decibel level inside.

“Matt Ryan couldn’t even get his audibles,” linebacker said. “If you saw him, he was having to walk to each single lineman and tell them the play. That makes a huge difference.”

Linebacker , who joined the club in 2006, said he’s never heard a more boisterous group in the stands.

“We definitely had a homefield advantage,” Ryans said. “Hands down this is loudest I’ve ever heard the stadium.”

Corner gave the fans a “shoutout” after the win, and appreciated their volume.

According to Barwin, the defense unofficially gained a new official nickname, courtesy of a popular Rage Against the Machine song.

“I think it’s official that ‘Bulls on Parade’ is the new name of this defense,” Barwin proclaimed. “Every time they played that song, the crowd was like a 12th man.”