HOUSTON (AP) — The Texans set a team record by running for 281 yards in beating Tennessee.
Now they will try to keep their running game going against Cleveland when they attempt to extend their franchise-record winning streak to nine games.
Houston’s big rushing performance came thanks in large part to the performance of Lamar Miller, who ran for a season-high 162 yards. His night was highlighted by a franchise-long 97-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Coach Bill O’Brien has always talked glowingly about Miller’s work and enjoyed watching him break away for that run.
“Lamar turned it on,” he said. “He got out in the open, did a great job. Lamar has been a great pro for us since the day he walked in here. So it was nice to see him be able to get that type of run.”
Though the Texans have a talented passing game led by quarterback Deshaun Watson and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, O’Brien believes the key to success is being able to run the ball effectively.
“In the end, we’ve got to — our football team, based on what we preach and the type of guys we try to bring in here — we want to be a physically tough, smart football team,” he said. “We feel like we have to be able to stop the run and we feel like we have to be able to run the ball.”
The Texans have run the ball well all year and rank fourth in the NFL by averaging 136.5 yards rushing. Just as it was on Monday night, their success has been because of the play of Miller.
The 27-year-old, who is in his third season with the Texans, has three 100-yard rushing games this season after not running for more than 75 yards in a game last year. He ranks eighth in the NFL with 773 yards rushing and is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. His long touchdown on Monday made him the only player in NFL history to have two TD runs of 95 yards or longer after he also had a 97-yard touchdown run in 2014 while with the Dolphins.
Houston hasn’t had a rushing performance like his in several years. It was the first time a Texans’ running back had rushed for 150 yards or more with a touchdown since franchise-leading rusher Arian Foster did it in 2014.
Watson said when Miller is rolling, it makes everything easier.
“It just opens up the whole offense,” Watson said. “The safeties get aggressive. The defense has to show what their hand is … our offensive line and the running backs set (up) the run game and open up the pass game.”
Houston’s running game was also helped on Monday by Watson’s scrambling. The speedy quarterback ran for a career-high 70 yards with a 15-yard touchdown after not running for more than 35 yards in the first 10 games.
The Texans stayed away from designed running plays for Watson over the past few weeks as he recovered from lung and rib injuries.
Though Watson denied that his health had anything to do with limiting such plays in past weeks, it was clear by the way he moved on Monday night that he was far healthier than he had been earlier this season.
Watson, who ran for 1,934 yards and 26 touchdowns in three seasons at Clemson, delighted in his rushing performance on Monday night and said fans could expect more such outings in the future.
“The opportunity came and I took advantage of it,” he said. “I just got to go out there and continue to try to pick our spots in those situations. But, you never know when I’m going to keep the ball.”
Houston’s other running back on the active roster is Alfred Blue, who has 392 yards rushing and has proven to be a good option when Miller needs a break.
The Texans’ running game could get a boost soon if D’Onta Foreman is able to return after missing all season after rupturing his Achilles tendon last November.
Foreman, who won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top collegiate running back in 2016 at Texas, returned to practice earlier this month but isn’t quite ready to play.
“Foreman’s doing better,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think he’s all the way back, though. I really don’t … so we’ll see how it looks this week again. We’ll make a good decision No. 1, based on him — the player and where he’s at — then secondly, based on the team.”
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