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Red Zone Play: A Running Team Needs Running Backs

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Has Houston done enough to improve their running back corps?

Houston Texans v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

While many insist the NFL has completely evolved into a passing league, there are still a handful of teams whose bread and butter is the run. Welcome to H-Town, baby.

With arguably the best running quarterback in pro ball in Deshaun Watson, Houston is pretty well set from that standpoint, but what about the guys who have nothing else on their plate aside from running the ball? Well, except blocking assignments and the occasional swing pass.

Lamar Miller Stats and Impact

The biggest stat for Miller that many seem to get stuck on is his paycheck. With a base salary of $5.5 million this year, Miller’s running all the way to the bank with a big old smile. But, honestly, who cares? Houston has $100 bills to light cigars with as far as cap space goes and Miller is potentially one of the best running backs in the game. Now, the coaching staff and offensive line have to do their jobs in order for Miller to reach that potential, but let’s stick to what Miller can do.

Since landing in Space City, Miller has started all but 7 games over 3 seasons, amassed 2,934 rushing yards, scored 18 touchdowns and seen his average yards per rush grow from 4.0 to 4.6. Granted a sizeable chunk of last year’s stats came on one run, but not every back in the NFL could have pulled off this run, much less been the only one since Bo Jackson to do it twice.

Houston is pretty well set with Miller at RB1. Beyond that is where it starts to get a little grey.

D’Onta Foreman’s Stats and Health

Foreman not only helped the Texas Longhorns win, it can be said he’s the only reason they did in his senior season. In 2016 Foreman put 2,028 yards beneath his feet on his way to scoring 15 touchdowns for the ‘Horns. That’s EA NCAA Football video game type stuff.

And, it was nothing new as Foreman gained 2,102 yards his senior year in high school.

Sadly, it has yet to translate to the big leagues, as Foreman was only able to gain 327 yards at 4.2 per clip before tearing his Achilles near the end of his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, the NFL isn’t overflowing with tales of legendary running backs who recovered from achilles tears, the most noteable to Houston fans to suffer one is Texans G.O.A.T. Arian Foster.

Watching all these A-Gap runs makes it easy to see why Bill O’Brien likes Foreman. Hopefully D’Onta can be the first Achilles tendon survivor to make the Pro Bowl multiple times.

Lower Extremity Review

Only two-thirds of National Football League players ever come back, and those who do find their performance significantly affected.

Of the 31 players who sustained an Achilles tendon rupture, 21 (64%) returned to play in the NFL at an average of 11 months after injury. In the three seasons following their return, those 21 players saw significant decreases in games played and power ratings compared to the three seasons preceding the injury.

The percentage of players returning to play at the NFL level is consistent with a meta-analysis performed by Bhandari4 in 2002. The authors reported return to function rates of 63% for patients treated nonoperatively and 71% for those treated operatively. If we assume that all the NFL players were treated operatively, as would be the standard for young athletes, the return to play rate of 64% is slightly lower than the 71% reported in the meta-analysis. This difference could be attributed to the excessive demands placed on the operatively repaired Achilles tendon in NFL players combined with a body size, strength, and explosiveness that would further increase these demands.

Not exactly brimming with sunshine and rainbows there, but Foreman could be one who bucks the odds.

Next Man Up: Karan Higdon Jr.

In Houston, going from undrafted free agent to the Pro bowl as a running back might be far easier than coming back from an Achilles injury (see the aforementioned Arian Foster). And ex-Michigan Wolverine Karan Higdon Jr. plans to do just that. With the murky magic 8-ball predictions of Foreman’s future, Higdon might easily find himself in the RB2 slot sooner rather than later.

Hidgon ran for a respectable 1,178 yards last season as a Wolverine, gobbling up yards at an impressive 5.3 per attempt. He found the end zone 27 times in his four years with Michigan and hopefully continues that streak in battle red.

The X-Factor: Cullen Gillaspia

While the word from Houston brass is that the Texans drafted Gillaspia for his contributions on special teams, this kid has that maniac gene often found in Hall of Fame full backs. At 6’2” 235lbs, he’s not exactly the biggest tailback in all the land, but he is bigger than Earl Campbell and Christian Okoye, both considered monsters in their day. And, that’s before Gillaspia hits the weights with fellow crazy person Brian Cushing. Not to mention, Gillaspia used to play linebacker, so he and Cushing can have lots of fun reliving Alfred Blue’s Hard Knocks scenes.

Free Agent Running Backs Still Available

While there are actually quite a few running backs sitting on the couch waiting for the phone to ring, there are a handful Houston could certainly use to boost their running back corps. Jay Ajayi, Alex Collins, Alfred Morris to name a few. Why and how Jay Ajayi is still in street clothes remains a mystery. Morris is a bit long in the tooth, but all could come in on a team friendly one-year deal and contribute. Hopefully Houston makes a move when they still have choices, instead of after realizing they don’t.

So what do you think? Love the current running back room? Think it still needs a talent infusion? Just happy Alfred Blue is no longer in H-Town? Give us your thoughts in the comments box.