Texans looking to solve short-yardage woes

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Five weeks into the season, the Texans are still searching for answers in the running game. Short-yardage shortcomings have become a recurring theme, with the Texans' offense falling a yard short of the end zone in the closing minutes of two different seven-point losses.

In Week 3, running back Chris Brown fumbled into the end zone on second-and-goal late in the Texans' 31-24 loss to Jacksonville. Against the Cardinals, Brown was stuffed for no gain at the one-yard line twice in the final minute, the latter time on fourth down.

In the second quarter at Arizona, running back Steve Slaton was stopped for no gain on third-and-one. On a drive in the third quarter, the Texans handed to Slaton on second-and-one and third-and-one from the Arizona 22-yard line. The Cardinals stopped him at the line of scrimmage both times, and the Texans turned the ball over on downs with an incompletion on the next play.

So what has been behind the running game woes?

On Monday, Texans coach Gary Kubiak reiterated his belief in Brown (6-3, 234) as the team's short-yardage back. Brown ran for a one-yard touchdown on third-and-goal in the third quarter Sunday.

Kubiak also stood behind the zone blocking scheme, which he used with great success in his former role as Denver Broncos offensive coordinator. In Kubiak's 11 years with the Broncos from 1995-2005, the team averaged less than 4.4 yards per carry only twice and gained more rushing yards (25,022) than any other team in the league.

Running the zone scheme under the direction of Alex Gibbs last season, the Texans averaged a franchise-record 4.3 yards per carry with 115.4 rushing yards per game.

"We ran it very well last year, and I don't think over the course of one year that it's no good any more," Kubiak said when asked if defenses have "caught up" to the zone scheme. "I believe in what we're doing. We found a way to move the ball (Sunday). We didn't get in the end zone at the one-yard line, so we get beat."

According to left tackle Duane Brown, the reason that the Texans have consistently come up just inches short in the running game has been, well, a matter of inches.

{QUOTE}"It's six inches," he said. "One guy's not pushing his guy six more inches, or one guy's running six more inches to get a cut to open the hole up. Everyone has to take responsibility. The line, the receivers, the running backs, everyone has to take responsibility. It's not just one particular unit that's not getting it done."

Brown was asked how the team can improve in short-yardage situations like the ones that stymied them at the end of the Jacksonville and Arizona games.

"I think it's all about attitude," he said. "When you get that close to the goal line with that much on the line, you've just got to take it upon yourself. Each individual has to take it upon themselves to get their job done and just get the touchdown. There's not much more you can do. They gave us a good play call. We've just got to get the job done."

Fullback Vonta Leach, the Texans' punishing lead blocker, echoed a similar sentiment.

"You just come back and you've got to work harder," he said. "We've got to get guys knowing what they're doing in situations, (to have) the will and determination that, hey, you've just got to get it in."

In short-yardage situations and in general, the Texans have struggled to get their running game on track this season. They rank 30th in the NFL with 75.4 rushing yards per game, averaging 3.0 yards per carry. They lost starting left guard Chester Pitts to a season-ending knee injury in Week 2, and now they might be without starting right guard Mike Brisiel if the foot injury he suffered at Arizona turns out to be serious.

Still, Kubiak is confident that his players will step up and that the team's running game will find its footing.

"It's (been) very frustrating, but it is very important to the team's success," Kubiak said. "When you run the ball well and control the football, it helps the defense. It helps everybody. We have not been doing that.

"We're not going to run away from it. We're not going to give up on it. Obviously, it's a major, major concern coming out of these games the way we're doing it. On the positive side, we are throwing the ball extremely well. We need to find some type of way to run it better.

"We're going to stay committed to it in our preparation and our work, and it needs to come around."

Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at *twitter.com/NickScurfield or find him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at imatexan.com/profiles/Nick_Scurf/*.

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