Running Game Once Again Set the Tone for Houston Texans Offense
The Houston Texans had one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2012, finishing seventh in the league in total offense. The offense was once again spearheaded by the ground game that averaged 132.7 ypg, eighth best in the league. They finished fourth in rushing attempts with 508 on the season. It was a slight drop-off from 2011, when Houston was second in the league with 153 rushing ypg and tied for first with 546 rushing attempts. Everything that the Texans do on offense, from the play-action, to the boots, to the two tight end sets, is based off of the running game. When the running game went good, Houston's offense clicked very well. On those rare instances that they struggled to run the ball, the Texans offense sputtered. It is no stretch to say that in 2012, as the running game went, so did the Houston offense.
No stat illustrated that better than the one that showed the Texans record when Pro-Bowl running back Arian Foster rushed for 100 or more yards in a game this season. When Foster rushed for at least 100 yards in a game this season, the Texans were 7-0. When you add in the post-season, that record improves to 8-0 in games Foster went for 100 plus. Even more telling was that when Foster had 20 or more carries in a game, Houston was also perfect at 10-0. In fact in all four Houston regular season losses, Foster failed to get 20 carries in each of those games. That showed that even when Foster wasn't having a big yardage game, the Texans were still successful as long as they attempted to run the ball. Although the Texans didn't have quite the dynamic one-two running back punch that they enjoyed in 2011, the running game was still the focal point of the offense in 2012.
In his fourth year in the NFL, Foster had another All-Pro season. He finished sixth in the league with 1,424 rushing yards on a league high 351 attempts. Throw in a league high 15 rushing touchdowns, and you see why he earned his third consecutive trip to Hawaii. In three years as a starter, Foster is three for three in 1,000 yard rushing seasons and Pro-Bowl selections. Not bad for an undrafted guy who spent the first half of his rookie season on the practice squad. Add in 40 receptions and 2 receiving touchdowns that gave him a league best 17 total touchdowns, and Foster showed he was worthy of the new contract he received last offseason. His best game of the season came in Houston's 29-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts that clinched th AFC South in week 15. He had 27 carries for 165 yards, a 6.1 ypc average. In the Texans playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, he had 140 rushing yards, becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards or more in his first three postseason games. In 2012, Foster became the all-time leading rusher in Texans franchise history in a week 2 27-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After a breakout year in 2011, Ben Tate had an injury plagued 2012 season in his third year in the league. Tate rushed for only 279 yards this season after rushing for 942 yards in 2011. His ypc fell from a whopping 5.4 to a still respectable 4.3. The big diffeence between 2011 and 2012 for Tate was in the number of rushing attempts that he received. That number dropped from 175 to only 65 this season. That was due to him missing five games in 2012 due to a variety of ailments. Tate struggled with both toe and hamstring injuries throughout the season, and when he returned to the lineup in December he was not as effective or explosive as he has been. It was a tough year for him, as health interferred with him for the second time in his three seasons. Tate missed his entire rookie season after injuring his ankle in the 2010 preseason. Durability has been an issue, but if Tate can stay healthy he has shown can be a very productive back on this level. His best game of 2012 occured in week 2 at the Jaguars. In that game he had season highs of 12 carries, 74 yards, 6.2 ypc and his only 2 touchdowns of 2012.
Justin Forsett was Houston's second leading rusher in 2012 with 374 yards. He averaged a team leading 5.9 ypc in his first season with the Texans. He only had 63 carries in spot duty, but the times that he was called upon he was dependable and delivered. His 2012 season will perhaps be remembered for the second most controversial play, and officiating call in the NFL this season. In the Texans Thanksgiving Day comeback win over the Detroit Lions, Forsett ran for an 81 yard touchdown that represented the Texans longest play from scrimmage this season. As Forsett ran through the Detroit defense, he was hit and tried to maintain his balance as he went down. The officials did not see his elbow touch the ground and did not blow the whistle. Forsett kept running all the way to the end zone as the shocked Detroit defense assumed that he was down and had stopped playing. The play on the field was ruled a touchdown, but would have been overturned by the replay official as all scoring plays were automatically reviewed this season. However, in one of the season's most entertaining moments, Lions coach Jim Schwartz torpedoed his own team by launching the challenge flag torpedo style onto the field. That launch nullified the automatic review and Forsett's score stood, leaving Schwartz as the league's biggest turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
Fullback James Caseywas a jack of all trades for the Texans in 2012. In his fourth season and first as Houston's starting fullback, Casey was not only a force in the run game but in the passing game as well. He would line up in the backfield and pave the way as a lead blocker for Foster and would also go in motion, line up at tight end, and split out wide as well. More involvement added up to a career year for Casey, as he had 34 receptions for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns. His best game of 2012 came on Monday Night Football vs the New York Jets in week 5. He had 4 receptions for a season high 53 yards and helped lead the way to Foster's second highest rushing yardage total of the season.
Led by Foster, the Texans running backs had another solid season in 2012. The running game was once again the strength of the offense. It was no coincidence that when Houston struggled to run the ball in the last quarter of the season, they lost 3 out of 4 of those games. Although the ground game suffered a slight drop-off from 2011, the running backs were productive as a group. Next season, the Texans will need to improve on running the ball in short yardage and red zone situations. That is the one area of the running game that they had problems with this season, particularly down the stretch. Finishing seventh in the league in rushing is nothing to sneeze at however, and once again the Houston running game flourished.