Dire straits struck the Texans’ already ineffectual and last-ranked running game Sunday when they lost their top running back to an injury and their second-best runner to an illness.
When starter Rex Burkhead left the Texans’ 33-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks with a groin injury, the 2-11 team was already playing without David Johnson after he tested positive for COVID-19 one day after practice squad running back Jaylon Samuels was placed on the reserve-COVID-19 list.
That left the Texans with only former Carolina Panthers running back Royce Freeman, who rushed for 15 yards on 11 carries and caught six passes for 51 yards out of the backfield. The Texans rushed for just 63 yards on 23 carries for an average of 2.5 yards per run with Burkhead leading them with 40 rushing yards on 11 carries. Tight end Jordan Ankns was pressed into action as a halfback, too.
Because the basic threat of a running game was removed, the play-action passes that were working for rookie quarterback Davis Mills became less effective. He wound up throwing it 49 times and passed for a career-high 331 yards, but this isn’t how the Texans want to run their offense.
“You've got to have balance,” Texans coach David Culley said. “You put all the pressure on your quarterback and your line to drop back and throw. There has to be balance and we don't have that balance right now. We've got to continue to try to find that balance.”
The Texans have rushed for just 1,008 yards as a team, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Mark Ingram, traded to the New Orleans Saints, remains the Texans’ leading rusher with the 294 yards he gained before he was sent to his original team that drafted him for a 2024 seventh-round draft pick.
“Obviously, we need to be able to do that to keep consistency and we haven’t been able to do that,” Culley said. “I think not having David and Rex going down and going on with one running back for most of the game. We tried to do what we needed to do, but we only had one guy back there to be able to do it. I thought early we attempted to do it and it helped us. We weren’t getting a bunch of yards, but the fact that we were attempting to do it helped us.”
Because the Texans trailed on the scoreboard, they needed to score as quickly as possible. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy for a pass-first offense with no running game.
“We got down in the score,” center Justin Britt said. “I thought in the first half we had a great balance and our approach was there. They're a really good defense, really good team as far as effort and how they fly to the football. We knew that. I told the guys how to prepare and the energy and effort we would need. I thought up front that we had the effort and the strain, and I felt like we did it through 60 minutes.
“We had the ball longer than them. We just got down and had to get away from the run game pretty quick. They had some pretty explosive plays on offense which helped them and put us out there a little quicker than we wanted to. Ultimately, we've got to find a way to score in the second half. If we do throw every play, we just got to find a way to stay on the field, convert and score. I thought Davis was slinging it today. I thought our receivers were playing really physical. It just didn't happen.”