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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Unassuming Brisiel humbled by All-Joe recognition

While a few of his teammates were enjoying a week in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl last week, Texans right guard received a different kind of recognition.

Brisiel was named the captain of USA Today’s 20th annual All-Joe Team, a squad that “celebrates first-rate players who receive second-rate recognition.” One of the most unheralded performers on one of the league’s best offensive lines, Brisiel played the entire second half of the Texans’ division-clinching victory at Cincinnati in Week 14 with a broken fibula in his right leg.

The fourth-year guard is so modest, so averse to the spotlight, he thought somebody was pulling a prank on him when a Texans public relations official informed him of the All-Joe honor.

“He was like, ‘Hey, this guy from USA Today wants to talk to you,’” Brisiel said. “I’m in the training room rehabbing and I just said, ‘Yeah, right.’ I just kind of laughed and looked at him, and I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’

“He was like, ‘They want to do an article on you.’ I was like, ‘Give me a break, man. Shut up.’ Then he said, ‘Dude, I’m serious.’ It took a little bit of time for me to actually believe him.”

After playing through a broken leg against the Bengals, Brisiel had surgery the next day. Just four weeks later, he returned to the lineup and started both of the Texans’ playoff games.

“It was one of those things where I was just happy to be back out there,” Brisiel said. “I got nicked up through the middle of the year and kind of was battling that and then I ended up breaking my leg in that Cincinnati game. I don’t know why, but I got some more publicity out of a broken leg than (anything else); it was ridiculous. But luckily, they didn’t put me on injured reserve, so I was lucky enough to have a chance to play in our first-ever playoff game.”

Brisiel had season-ending injuries in 2009 (left foot) and 2010 (shoulder) that caused him to miss a total of 15 games. When healthy, he routinely grades out as the Texans’ top offensive lineman on a weekly basis, according to his teammates and coaches.

“I’m happy for him,” said center , one of the Texans’ three Pro Bowlers. “He’s had a lot more hardships throughout his career than I have injury-wise. This year alone, he’s already had two surgeries. That guy’s been through so much, and he’s just a grinder. He’s the most consistent guy on our offensive line, and he deserves a lot more recognition.”

Undrafted out of Colorado State in 2006, Brisiel spent a month of his rookie season on the Texans’ practice squad before he was released. The Texans re-signed him in January 2007, and he spent that spring playing in NFL Europe before getting cut again in August.

After 12 games on the practice squad in 2007, Brisiel was called up to the active roster. He became a starter following an injury to guard Fred Weary, and he hasn’t relinquished the starting job since.

“I tell you what, I told Mike right when we broke (after the season), what he’s done with his career has been outstanding,” Texans offensive line coach John Benton said. “To go from a street free agent, essentially, a college free agent, and build himself into a top-tier type player, it’s neat to see him get that award.”

A native of Fayetteville, Ark., Brisiel entered the NFL with modest expectations.

“I told my dad when I came out of college, I was like, ‘You know what, I’m not expecting anything big-time. I just want to maybe make a little bit of money, save up my money try to get a little head start on the rest of my life,’” Brisiel said. “And the opportunity kind of hit for me and I’ve been able to stick around here. It’s just been a blessing. Each year is a blessing.”

Brisiel also made the All-Joe team in 2008, when he started all 16 games and helped Steve Slaton lead all rookies with 1,282 rushing yards. He and his line-mates helped the Texans rank second in the NFL in 2011 with a franchise-record 153.0 yards per game.

“I try to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Brisiel said. “It might not be pretty, but that’s the kind of player I am. I don’t ever really like to get beat. I just try to work hard every day and I try to be as consistent as I can and, you know, just try not to embarrass myself out there with those athletes.”

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Texans waive Slaton, sign Ogbonnaya

The Texans have waived running back Steve Slaton and signed running back to the active roster from their practice squad.

A third-round pick from West Virginia in 2008, Slaton was a rookie revelation with a franchise-record 1,282 rushing yards. He led the AFC with 1,659 yards from scrimmage that season, averaging a team-record 4.8 yards per carry and setting a team rookie record with 10 touchdowns.

In 2009, Slaton suffered a nerve injury in his neck that eventually caused him to lose feeling in the tips of the fingers in his right hand. The injury coincided with him averaging 3.3 yards per carry and fumbling seven times in 11 games before being placed on injured reserve. He had a C-5 cervical fusion operation in the offseason to repair the injury, then spent 2010 as the Texans’ third running back and part-time kick returner.

Slaton totaled seven carries for 20 yards this season before being let go. He finishes his Texans career ranked third in team history in rushing yards (1,832), second in attempts (425) and third in rushing touchdowns (12). He averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

Ogbonnaya was the Texans’ leading rusher in the preseason with 192 yards on 54 carries (3.6 average). He also had seven receptions for 77 yards. A Houston native who played at the University of Texas, he was a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2009.

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