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At this point, you can almost pre-write the headlines after a Houston Texans victory: Texans dominate _______ by the score of _____ to improve to _-0. Yesterday, Houston maintained the only perfect record in the AFC with a 38-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans. And while there have been fluctuations in the offense, the defense has been steady and solid all season with the exception of their 4th quarter against the Denver Broncos.
This defense, overall, is ridiculously good and we saw every aspect of that on Sunday when not only did the front seven dominate, but Houston had two interceptions returned for touchdowns. The secondary really flexed their muscles in this game. Yes, JJ Watt had two sacks and a fumble recovery, but it felt like every big play, defensively, came from a corner or a safety at Reliant Stadium.
In our reports from training camp, we talked about how tight the secondary was as a unit, taking pride in every individual play during every drill and scrimmage. Glover Quin got the sack that knocked out Jake Locker while Danieal Manning and Kareem Jackson returned interceptions for touchdowns. Jackson’s interception was far more telling. He’s been one of the most reviled players on the Houston roster. Quarterbacks pick on him all the time, but on Sunday he got the better of the Titans.
As for the offense, Matt Schaub made it look easy again hitting Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels early and often, finishing 20-28 for 202 yards and two touchdowns. But I’m starting to get concerned about Arian Foster.
Foster had another solid game: 24 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown. But one of the things I’m starting to notice is how much he’s laboring after each carry. He’s still got that burst of speed and is capable of breaking big plays. There are several times a game where he gets upset at himself because someone trips him up and prevents a long touchdown run, holding him to a short to mid-range gain. But what’s more concerning is his yards per carry. Houston is among the league leaders in rushing yards, but they’re close to the bottom of the league in yards per carry, averaging just 3.7 yards per attempt.
A lot of that has to do with teams dedicating themselves to stopping the run, but that’s no different than what defenses were doing last year. Another reason that the running game is suffering is that Ben Tate doesn’t appear to be the player he was last year. Think of it from a fantasy perspective. Ben Tate had value beyond just being Foster’s backup. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry last year and saw a lot of time, even when Foster came back from his injury. This season, he’s down to 3.9 yards per carry. The Titans rushing defense wasn’t very good coming into yesterday’s game, but held Houston to just 95 total yards rushing.
One of the things to watch for this coming Monday night when the Texans travel to play the New York Jets is Foster’s yards per carry and his workload. He’s already got over 100 rushing attempts this season. Only Marshawn Lynch has more than 90. The offensive line and Foster have to be in sync so that he can be more effective with fewer carries and so that Tate can return to form as well.
The Houston Texans are still the most complete team in the NFL, but the running game will be essential to beating some of the best teams in the AFC during the season and in the playoffs. It may seem like nitpicking with a 4-0 team, but it’s a big part of their offense.