Steve Slaton and the Texans run game hope to continue their improvement Sunday in Arizona
Through the first four games of 2009, the Texans' offense has been solid despite an overall inability to run the ball with great success. Quarterback Matt Schaub is on pace to throw 32 touchdowns and for more than 4,000 yards, and his passer rating is a sterling 98.6.
The running back position has been a different story through the first quarter of the season. Steve Slaton, who had 1,282 yards and 4.8 yards per carry in 2008, is a yard-and-a-half below his average so far in 2009.
"We're just off to a very slow start running the football," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "But we're committed to what we're doing and we need to do it better."
After four games in 2008, it was a bit different story on the ground for Kubiak's crew. Hurricane Ike and its impact on the season certainly merits an asterisk, but the 0-4 Texans actually were running the ball better at this point last year.
The club had amassed 456 total rushing yards, going for an average of 114 per game. Slaton, a rookie, accounted for 285 of those yards, and was gaining an even five yards a pop and also scored three rushing touchdowns by then.
The Texans have gained only 332 yards on 105 rushing attempts, averaging 3.2 yards a carry. For Slaton, it's worse: 192 yards through four games, and it's taken him 59 carries to get there. In Kubiak's eyes, the most worrisome number is four, which is how many times Slaton has fumbled the football in 2009. He's lost two of those fumbles, and the most recent one led to a first-half field goal by the Raiders.
"When you make mistakes, it hurts the team," Slaton said. "It not only hurts the offense but it hurts the defense, too. I gave them three points off of that. So you've just gotta go in there and make up for it."
Kubiak is quick to point out that ball security is highly important, but he just as quickly praised the second-year back from West Virginia.
"I think Steve gives me everything he's got all the time," Kubiak said. "He's got to eliminate some of these balls that have been on the ground, and he knows how important that is. I don't have to tell him."
The good news is this: The Texans actually are running the ball better of late.
The series after the fumble last Sunday saw Ryan Moats enter the contest and peel off 28 yards on just four carries, as his first runs of the season went for 4, 12, 3 and 9 yards in succession. After the nine-yarder, Slaton returned to the field and promptly answered with an 11-yard run, followed by his 32-yard touchdown sprint up the middle.
When the final gun sounded, the Texans finished with 120 rushing yards and a resounding 29-6 victory. The second half was rough when they went to the run, but it was a deliberate decision by Kubiak to get more looks on film of what his offense was doing wrong, and right, when they handed off.
When given a chance to diagnose his squad's problems against an eight-man front in the second half last Sunday, Kubiak wasn't pleased.
"I didn't like what I saw," Kubiak said. "Bottom line: We've got to be better at a two-back offense regardless of if they're in an eight-man front or not. We've got to be able to stay on the field. So we can do it better and we've got a lot to grow from right there to take a look at. But we pride ourselves in being a good two-back offense."
Kubiak, Slaton, Moats and the Texans take the field Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., hoping to continue the steady improvement they've seen over the course of the season. After running for only 38 yards in the Week 1 loss to the Jets, the Texans improved incrementally and gained 63 yards in the road win at Tennessee. In Week 3, the total was up again, this time to 111 yards.
If Slaton and company can improve on the 120 yards that came last Sunday against Oakland, odds are they'll be in the win column and leaving Arizona with a 3-2 record.