10/25/2015 - On that fateful day, All-Pro tailback Arian Foster lined up wide left and suddenly fell to the ground, untouched. A ruptured Achilles tendon ended Foster’s time as the greatest running back in Houston Texans history, and with it went Houston’s ability to dominate on the ground.
While Foster would play a few games for the Miami Dolphins, the injury bug took him out once and for all the final year. His career would end with 80 games played, 1,476 rushing attempts, 6,527 yards gained, a career average of 4.4 per rush and 81.6 yards per game, 54 rushing touchdowns, 255 receptions for 2,346 yards, a 9.2 yard catch average and 14 receiving touchdowns.
To say Houston has missed this productivity over the last several seasons is an understatement.
The Texans brought in Lamar Miller to replace Foster, but never seemed to use him the way they employed Foster. Trying to augment the productivity difference with the likes of Alfred Blue and D’Onta Foreman, Houston’s ground game struggled for several years.
Thankfully, that trend ended in 2019 with the arrival of Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr. How good did these two perform this season? Well enough that Hyde is already the 11th best running back (by yards gained) in Texans’ history and Johnson Jr is 18th on that list.
Pretty impressive for two guys who weren’t even on the roster a year ago.
In 2019, Carlos Hyde not only had the best year a Texans running back has had since Arian Foster, he had the best year of his pro career. On 245 attempts, Hyde racked up 1,070 yards with an average per rush of 4.4 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 55 first downs.
Duke Johnson Jr. contributed 83 runs for 410 yards, an average per rush of 4.9 yards, two rushing touchdowns, 44 catches for 410 yards with a 9.3 yard per catch average, three receiving touchdowns, and 35 total first downs.
Comparatively, Foster’s last “full” season was 2014, where he gained 1,246 yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, 38 catches for 327 yards, and 5 receiving touchdowns.
It’s safe to say Houston has found their replacement for Foster, albeit in two bodies.
As the Texans’ offensive line continues to gain chemistry and learns to play as a unit, the run blocking will continue to improve opening lanes for Hyde and Johnson the way the old Houston line did for Foster.
Next year should see the full resurgence of the dominant Texans’ ground game.
But there are a few variables to factor in, as always.
Carlos Hyde’s contract is a one-year, prove-it deal. Unless the Texans re-sign him beforehand, he’ll be a free agent when the NFL league year begins on March 18th. Hopefully, just as they did with punter Bryan Anger and linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the Texans will lock Hyde down for a few years well before March rolls around.
The other wrinkle in all this is what to do with Lamar Miller, who’s sitting on injured reserve after tearing his ACL last August in a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. In 2016, Miller had a slightly less positive season than Hyde did this year, gaining three more yards (1,073), with a lower average per carry (4.0), one less touchdown (5) and 52 first downs.
In retrospect, Miller should have been the perfect replacement for Foster. The only running back in NFL history to score on a 93+ yard run twice, Miller is certainly a threat every time he touches the ball. However, for some reason, Houston hasn’t had the same success with him they managed to have this year with the two-headed beast of Hyde and Johnson Jr.
Like Hyde, Miller will become an unrestricted free agent on March 18th if Houston doesn’t re-sign him prior to the beginning of the League year.
Having all three in the running back arsenal, along with Deshaun ‘Roadrunner’ Watson under center, would make Houston’s running attack one of, if not the, most feared in the NFL. With so many holes in the roster, the question arises: can the Texans afford to keep all three RBs?
Current logic, taking history into account, would dictate that Miller is the odd man out. While he’s only five months older than Carlos Hyde, he has nearly 300 more carries on his body. Since an NFL running back’s career is measured in runs, 300 is a lot.
In Miller’s favor, he has more carries simply due to more starts, having lined up at the coin toss 89 times to Hyde’s 57. This speaks to durability and perceived readiness. But with more than an entire season’s worth of hits on his body, Miller’s day in the sun may be coming to an end sooner than Hyde’s.
To circle back to the all-time list, Lamar Miller ranks #3 for the Texans behind Foster and Domanick Williams. To date, Miller has gained 2,934 yards and 13 touchdowns for the City of Houston.
With a bevy of free agent dollars to spend (Houston is currently projected to have over $76 million in cap space for the 2020 season per Spotrac), it’s not inconceivable for the Texans to lock down Hyde and Miller for the next few years. Chances are they won’t, however.
In the meantime, let’s gear up to enjoy watching Hyde and Johnson hammer the A-gap into the teeth of the Buffalo Bills’ defense this weekend. If Houston can establish a solid ground game, odds are they’ll move on to the Divisional Round next week.