How To Solve the Houston Texans' Running Game Woes

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How To Solve the Houston Texans' Running Game Woes
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Allow me to set the scene: The Texans have lost three games this season (so far). Two of those games have come down to one play.

If we can leave the Jets debacle alone, the Texans have lost two games they could have won because of breakdowns in the running game. Both against Jacksonville in Week Three and Arizona in Week Five, the Texans were unable to punch the ball into the end zone from within the one-yard line.

Granted, in both games, this score, had it happened, would have set the stage for the Texans to tie the game, not win it. It's possible the Jaguars could have gone down and kicked a field goal had Chris Brown not fumbled. 

It's also possible they could have turned the ball over and the Texans could have won.  The point is we just don't know what could have happened in the event of a tie.

What we do know, however, is that the Texans were unable to even tie to score. I have identified three problems with the way things played out in both of these losses.

First, I put blame on the coaching staff. It's clear that the Texans are among the league's elite in the passing game.

The offensive line has largely allowed Matt Schaub to stand upright in the pocket and deliver the ball to a litany of play makers, including Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Kevin Walter, and Steve Slaton.

The Texans are very good at passing the ball. Running the ball is not the the team's speciality. Why the coaches would call for runs in these critical situations is beyond me.  I'm all for the element of surprise. The offense is built on the play-action pass, an inherently surprising play.

But when the team has big and tall receivers, throw them the ball in short yardage situations. I'm not talking about fades or anything cute, but a quick slant or an out is an effective play that the Texans can and have mastered. 

I'm not sure that pounding the ball with the Texans' interior offensive lineman is a better play than a quick slant to superstar wide receiver Johnson or a quick out to tight end Daniels. In fact, I'm convinced those are superior plays.

Playing to your strength is more effective than surprising the other team. Yeah, you'd surprise the hell out of the other team by quick kicking on second down rather than running a conventional play, but you won't win many games. 

I realize this is somewhat of a stretch to compare this situation to forcing the running game, but I think the point is valid. The Texans are one of the best in the league at throwing the ball. Why they don't continue to do so in clutch moments is baffling.

Second, center Chris Myers is simply an ineffective lineman.

Let's start with his positives before you label me biased. He is athletic and is ordinarily well-suited to playing in a zone blocking scheme. Having spent three years in Denver before coming to the Texans, he has built up a familiarity with the scheme.

Yet, these Texans are anything from ordinary. Both guards Mike Brisiel and Kasey Studdard are high-effort players, but both weigh close to 300 pounds. Both are somewhat undersized for their positions.

If Myers was playing next to bigger guards, his lack of size and physical strength could be masked. Myers is better suited using his quickness and athleticism to get into the second level of blockers than he is taking on mammoth nose tackles such as Kris Jenkins. He is an adequate "help" blocker on the line, but this is not his strength.

If the Texans had bigger guards, Myers could play to his strengths. But, as Studdard and Brisiel are on the smallish size, Myers' weakness is not hidden and is exposed. He is simply not strong enough to play center in this version of the Texans' offensive line. 

Myers must be replaced with Antoine Caldwell, a rookie from Alabama, who is bigger and stronger.

Brute strength is not all there is to football, but it surely helps. Caldwell has solid technique to go along with his superior size and strength. The Texans must find a way to get the 2008 All-American from Alabama onto the field.

Third, running back Chris Brown must be replaced as the short yardage, goal line back. 

Even though he stands 6'3" and weighs 235 pounds, that does not mean he is a goal line back. He cannot continue to receive goal line carries, as he has cost the team two chances to tie games. He fumbled into the end zone against Jacksonville and was unable to punch it in from inside the one-yard line twice against Arizona.

When he played in Tennessee, the Titans were able to identify that Brown is simply not a tough runner. Many scouts agree. Brown is at times tentative inside the tackles and appears to protect himself as opposed to punishing defenders and finishing off runs.

Steve Slaton, at times, has looked tentative in short yardage but we all know he is a vastly superior player than Brown.

Even Ryan Moats has showed more fire than Brown. Perhaps now is the time to elevate Arian Foster to see what he can offer the team.

In some way or another, goal line carries cannot continue to be given to Brown. 

He has cost the team two chances to tie games. How many more chances will he be given before it's too late?

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