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Is There Hope For The Run Game?

Over the offseason, many Texans fans felt confident about the offense.  One of the reasons was the emergence of Steve Slaton last year running behind an Alex Gibbs coached line.  Something has gone wrong though.  The Houston Texans have the 27th ranked rushing offense in the league.  That's down from 13th over the course of the 2008 season.  So is it getting better and can it get fixed?

Having played 7 out of 16 games, the level of the competition must be taken into account.  The Texans have played the 1st, 5th, 6th, 9th, 13th, 22nd and 30th ranked rush defenses in the NFL so far.  While it might make the average Texans fan feel better to know that they've played stiff rush defenses, the fact that the Texans contributed to those opponents' success by rushing 75% below those teams' collective yards allowed average isn't comforting. 

Is it getting better though?  The good news is that for the last two weeks the Texans have been right at the average yards allowed against the 5th (Bengals) and 6th (49ers) ranked rush defenses, and they were both wins.  The bad news is that was only good for 87 and 90 yards rushing, respectively.  The yards per carry averages were two of the higher marks of the season, although no one would consider 2.9 and 3.3 very respectable.

Usually matching the average isn't cause for excitement, but consider that the remainder of the rush defenses the Texans will face average 113 yards allowed per game.  If the Texans were able to gain close to that yardage on the ground for the remainder of the year, this would be an amazingly potent offense with the success that Matt Schaub is having through the air.

The litmus test for this theory will be in Buffalo on Sunday.  The Bills have given up a league-worst 172 yards per game.  Even Jamal Lewis, who hadn't previously gained over 100 yards on the ground since 2007, was able to run for 117 against the Bills in week 5. 

I'm not suggesting that the Texans need to rush for 170 yards on Sunday to prove anything.  They have a pass-oriented offense, which I'm okay with because I believe that's what you need to have in order to win today in the NFL.  Even 75% of 172 is 129 yards, which would qualify as the Texans' best day rushing day in 2009.

I do think, however, that if the Texans can't run against the Bills this weekend that there is something seriously wrong that will get worse.  If you can't run the football, then safeties will not be fooled on play action, something our passing attack is predicated on.  If that happens, Schaub and the passing offense will come back down to Earth...quickly.

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