Ahman Green was supposed to save Houston’s ground game. When the $23-million free agent was hurt his first year, the Texans signed former 1,000-yard rusher Chris Brown as insurance. But rookie Steve Slaton turned out to be the key to the best rushing attack in Texans' history.
Ahman Green was supposed to save Houston’s ground game. When the $23-million free agent was hurt his first year, the Texans signed former 1,000-yard rusher Chris Brown as insurance.
They also used a low third-round pick on Steve Slaton to be a third-down back.
Plan B didn’t even make it to opening day; Brown was hurt in training camp. Plan A didn’t last much longer; Green, the former Packer star, has had another injury-plagued season, gaining just 294 yards. Plan C then became Plan D. The Texans junked the idea of Slaton as a change-of-pace back and made him their workhorse.
And that’s how they wound up with their best rushing attack in the team’s seven-year history.
“He has been exceptional,” coach Gary Kubiak said in a conference call. “He has been more than we expected. The way he has held up, the way he has handled protection, all the things that go with being a pro. We knew that he could run the ball, but just all the other things that you have to do in this league on every down has been a pleasant surprise.”
In short, everything Matt Forte has meant for the Bears (9-6), Slaton has meant for the Texans (7-8). Maybe even more so. The Bears tout Forte as only the seventh rookie in NFL history to run for 1,000 yards and catch 50 passes. Well, Slaton (1,190 yards) can match that feat with five catches against the Bears in Sunday’s season finale. And while Forte is tied for 33rd among the NFL’s top 40 rushers in yards per carry (3.9), Slaton is tied with Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson for sixth at 4.8.
“They are both really important to their team, I know that,” Kubiak said. “I knew that (Forte) was going to be a fine young back, too. ... It will be good to see both of them go to work. It is unusual to have a rookie make that much of an impact, especially at that position, but those two guys have made major impacts.
“Any time a rookie back in this league is a three-down player and on the field all the time, it tells you he’s something special. (Forte) can also go outside and run routes, which you don’t see much in this league.”
This is the second time Forte will be matched against a fellow, versatile rookie star runner. The Bears earlier played against Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (1,228 yards rushing, 43 receptions). Johnson, Slaton and Forte rank Nos. 6, 7 and 8 in the NFL in rushing.
“This is the best our running game has been since I’ve been here,” Texans receiver Andre Johnson said.
It’s the best their passing game has been, too. Thanks in large part to Johnson.
The Texans have passed for a team-record 4,146 yards, despite Matt Schaub missing five starts. Tight end Owen Daniels and wide receiver Kevin Walter both have more than 800 yards receiving. And Johnson leads the NFL with a team-record 1,427 yards on 105 catches.
“He has had as good of a year as I have ever been around, and I have been around some good receivers,” Kubiak said. “He is the leader of our offense.”
While the Bears hope a win vaults them into the playoffs, the Texans, after an 0-4 start, are hoping to finish with their second .500 season.
“We have a lot of guys who can go out and make plays,” Johnson said. “It’s all working out. The more we are together, the better we are going to get. It’s headed in the right direction now.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.