ARLINGTON – Significant investments in the running game aren’t yielding the kind of results the Texans had hoped for given the presence of three former Pro Bowl running backs.
Although running back Mark Ingram shoved his way into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run as he gained a team-high 24 yards on seven carriesSaturday nightduring a 20-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, the running game mostly sputtered in the second preseason game.
Third-string quarterback Jeff Driskel was the second-leading rusher behind Ingram with five runs for 23 yards.
Between Ingram, Phillip Lindsay and Rex Burkhead, they combined for just 12 runs for 30 yards for a 2.5 average per carry. Lindsay was limited to two yards on four carries and Burkhead gained four yards on his only run.
Meanwhile, former Pro Bowl running back David Ingram, acquired in the controversial DeAndre Hopkins trade last year and retained by new general manager Nick Caserio under a restructured contract this offseason, has one run this preseason. He was targeted once for an incomplete pass against the Cowboys. He lost a yard on his one run against the Green Bay Packers on 3rd-and-1 as the Texans settled for a field goal.
Even when the Texans used Paul Quessenberry as a fullback in an I-formation set, the Texans didn’t run the football with much effectiveness. The Cowboys limited the Texans to 89 yards on 23 carries, a 3.2 average per run.
“It was good to see them all get some reps,” Texans coach David Culley said. “Next week ,we’ve got another preseason game (defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers) we’re going to get more reps out of them. But I was happy with what we got out of them.
“You saw Mark had a few carries, and I’ve spent some time with Mark before in another place (Baltimore Ravens). The thing about Mark, when the ball’s in Mark’s hands, it’s usually going to be positive yards and he did that for us.”
Scottie Phillips rushed for 16 yards on four carries after leading the Texans in rushing yards against the Packers.
The Texans utilized Ingram in short yardage as he gained two yards on a 4th-and-1 to set up his touchdown run for an early lead. TheTexans didn’t convert their other fourth-down try when Lindsay lost a yard on 4th-and-1. Culley did display a more aggressive style, though.
“I love the aggressive mentality,” Ingram said. “I love the identity. We have a physical identity. An identity we have faith in. We believe in each other that we’re going to get a yard. When coach makes the call, us as players, we have to be able to go out there execute and make sure we don’t let him down.
“That we convert the 4th-and-1 and sustain the drive. I love the aggressiveness. I love the mentality. I think everyone on the offense loves the challenge as well. We have to keep improving and get better.”
There wasn’t a ton of push in the running game or big holes to run through despite using a lot of multiple tight ends as blockers.
“Well, I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that we had all of our tight ends available for the game,” Culley said. “We were going to play all those guys. We wanted to make sure everybody that was available played. They’re a big part of what we do in the run game and the passing game. There are times when those guys are just like offensive linemen in the game. When we go two tight end sets, we’re able to run the ball regardless of what they do up front and be able to throw the ball.”
The highlight for a largely ineffective offense: Ingram converting a sudden change situation after defensive end Jacob Martin’s sack and forced fumble recovered by defensive end Charles Omenihu.
“That’s huge,” Ingram said. “You start the game on defense, and for them to cause a turnover and give us a short field. For us to be able to capitalize and get a touchdown on it, that’s execution. That’s something you want to do.
“How the game started, we’re happy with that. As the game went on, we need better execution to sustain drives, limit big plays. Although we got the win, there’s lots of good from this tape, there’s also a lot to grow from.”
In short yardage, it comes down to will power as much as skill and strength.
“You have to be able to win the line of scrimmage and have the mentality that you’re not going to be denied the yard,” Ingram said. “There’s a lot of will to break a tackle and get some yards. There’s a lot of will for the line to be able to knock the d-line off the ball. Everyone has to be able to execute, and everyone has to have the mentality to be physical and not to be denied a yard so you can continue the drive.”
Between Ingram, Johnson and Lindsay, the Texans have three former 1,000-yard rushers who have all been named to the Pro Bowl. The Texans need them to perform that way when the season begins.
“We just want to be a physical group, a group that executes,” Ingram said. “Run the ball inside, run the ball outside, come out of the backfield, catch a pass, pick up pass protection, just be the complete package. Be a position that’s an asset for this team.
“Be a position that’s making plays for this team. Be a position that can bring momentum and energy to this team. As running backs, you take pride in that. We just want to be a group that makes plays and be an asset to the team.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.