Ten games into the 2011 season, the Texans' offense could easily be defined by injuries to its marquee players. Instead, the story has been how well the offense has performed despite those injuries.
Lose 2010 NFL rushing leader Arian Foster to a hamstring injury for two of the first three games? No problem. The Texans went 2-1, averaging 400.7 yards and 30.0 points per game.
Lose All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson to a hamstring injury for six games from Weeks 5-10? Meh. The Texans went 4-2, averaging 407.0 yards and 27.7 points.
Lose quarterback Matt Schaub to a foot injury in Week 10? How the Texans respond with Matt Leinart under center remains to be seen. But if the way they've overcome adversity all season long is any indication, they should be just fine.
Foster, Johnson and Schaub have played together for a grand total of three-and-a-half quarters this season, but the Texans rank eighth in offense (396.2 yards/game) and fifth in scoring (27.3). The catalyst has been their third-ranked running game (158.1). Foster and Ben Tate both rank in the top-10 in the league in rushing yards, and the Texans lead the NFL in average time of possession (33:51).
Schaub's completion percentage (61.0) is down from his career average, but he ranks sixth in the NFL in passer rating (96.8) and second in yards per attempt (8.49, a career-high). He has thrown 15 touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Texans are optimistic that Leinart can play with similar efficiency.
Tight end Owen Daniels leads the team with 478 yards on 37 catches. Foster is right behind him with 445 yards on 31 catches. Johnson, in less than four games, has 25 catches for 352 yards. Six different Texans players – Daniels, tight end Joel Dreessen, Foster, Johnson and wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter – have two or more receiving touchdowns.
On to the HoustonTexans.com Bye Week Offensive Awards:
MVP: Arian Foster
Foster has been nothing short of sensational since overcoming his hamstring injury. He has topped 100 yards rushing and/or receiving in six of seven games, which includes three 100-yard receiving games. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October after piling up 809 yards from scrimmage, third-most in October in NFL history. At his current per-game pace, he's on track for 1,295 rushing yards, 779 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns despite missing two-and-a-half games at the start of the season.
Unsung hero: Offensive line
The driving force behind the Texans' dominant running game is an offensive line that runs like a well-oiled machine. Center Chris Myers, tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston and guards Wade Smith and Mike Brisiel have started every game this season. Myers was named a team captain at midseason but declined to wear the "C" patch because he didn't want the attention. That epitomizes this cohesive group that revels in anonymity as it springs gaping holes for Foster and Tate. None of the Texans' linemen have ever been selected to a Pro Bowl, but that's bound to change if the final six games of the season are anything like the first 10.
Breakout player: Ben Tate
After missing his rookie season with an ankle injury, Tate wasted no time in showing why the Texans used a second-round pick on him last year. Stepping in for Foster, he ran for 100 yards in both of the first two games of the season, becoming the 11th player in NFL history to start his career with back-to-back 100-yard games. He has two 100-yard games since Foster's return, providing power, explosion and big-play ability off the bench. Tate ranks 10th in the league in rushing (686 yards), fourth in yards per carry (5.6) and second in runs of 10 yards or more (27).
Top individual performance: Arian Foster at Tennessee (Week 7)
All Foster did against the Titans was rush for 115 yards on 25 carries (4.6 average), catch five passes for 119 yards and score three touchdowns, becoming the fourth player since 1970 with 100 yards rushing and receiving and three touchdowns in one game. His career-long 78-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter put the Texans up 17-0. He followed that with two rushing touchdowns in the second half as the Texans cruised to a 41-7 victory.
Top team performance: At Tennessee (Week 7)
In the most lopsided victory in team history, the Texans put up their most yards (518) and points (41) of the season. Foster and Tate both had 100 rushing yards. The Texans controlled the clock for 37:58. Schaub was 18-of-23 passing for 296 and two touchdowns with a career-high 147.7 rating. Seven different receivers caught a pass. The Texans scored on five consecutive possessions after punting on their first two.
Injury to watch: Matt Schaub (foot)
The Texans will know next week whether Schaub has a chance to return this season. He'll visit doctors from Charlotte, N.C., and Indianapolis to see if he can avoid having season-ending surgery. Either way, his injury puts the spotlight squarely on Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner and 2006 first-round pick who hasn't started a game since 2009. Leinart has not thrown a pass in his two seasons in Houston, but the Texans' play-action-heavy offense suits his skill set. Texans coaches and players are confident he can pick up where Schaub left off and keep the team marching toward the playoffs.