With rookie QB Davis Mills getting his second NFL start on the road in Buffalo, the Houston Texans look to get their ground game up and running once again.
"I think really starting the run game strong will always allow you to open up the pass game, but emphasis on the run game's going to be big this week," Mills said.
In their loss to Carolina, the Texans finished with just 41 rushing yards against a top-ranked Panthers front. Mills had a short week to prepare for the Panthers after Tyrod Taylor was placed on Injured Reserve. Head Coach David Culley said the goal was to not put too much on Mills' plate in his first NFL start, but now opening up the playbook might pave the way for more success on the ground.
"We didn't really attack them the way we normally would have attacked them," Culley said. "I think that had something to do with our game plan. We kind of cut down some things. We normally have a few checks in there, going one way or the other. We didn't want to put that on Davis (Mills) to do too many of those kinds of things. I think now that he has a game and a half under his belt that we will go back to doing what we normally do."
After signing five running backs to the active roster and revamping the offensive line, the Texans had high hopes for their run game and saw early returns on their investment. In the season opener against Jacksonville, Houston's backs collectively rushed for 160 yards on 41 carries with three different players (Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson) scoring a touchdown in the 37-21 win.
OL Justin Britt, now in his seventh NFL season, believes the run game struggles are "hiccups" and normal with an offense that has as many new pieces to it. Fast starts and a balanced attack will be the key to success for the offense and the run game getting back on track.
"We just need to stay ahead of the sticks and not let the game start to get away from us where we're in the position where we have to throw to stay in the game," Britt said. "I don't think there is a need to panic or a drastic change that needs to happen. We just need to stay at it, have a purpose at practice for what we're doing, have a game plan individually, group, offensively, to go out there and pick one thing to get better at and just work at that."
Houston is the only team with three players ranked in the top-25 in active rushing yards with Ingram (first, 7,471), Johnson (ninth, 3,865) and Lindsay (22nd, 2,582). Through three games, Ingram has rushed for a team-high 147 yards and a touchdown.
On Sunday, he and the Texans will face a Bills defense that ranks seventh in the league, allowing just 74.7 yards rushing on average against opponents.
"I've played this unit a number of times," Ingram said. "They are just really well-coached, and they play really well together. The Mike linebacker, he's one of the best young guys in football. The front four, they get after it. (Matt) Milano, he's another great linebacker. The secondary, they play well. It's just they play well as a unit. They're well-coached, they execute, they're comfortable in their scheme and what their roles are within the scheme. It will be a challenge for us. Something that we will be looking forward to and we will be preparing all week and giving ourselves the best chance to go out there and execute and have success."
The Texans will face the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Week 4. Kickoff is set for Sunday at noon CT.
Want to watch the Texans at NRG Stadium? Click here for tickets.
Check out the best photos from the Houston Texans practice on Wednesday.