Dameon Pierce, DeMeco Ryans React To Lackluster running game struggles: 'We Can Run It More'
Texans limited to 72 rushing yards on 23 carries, 3.1 average per run, with just 38 yards on 11 runs from Dameon Pierce
HOUSTON — Dameon Pierce was philosophical following a disappointing loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and his message resonated.
For the rebuilding Texans to be competitive against any opponent, they have to remain true to their identity and establish a running game.
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Against a stout Ravens defense headlined by star linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen, the Texans were not. They got away from running the football, abandoning the run and exposed rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud to far too many hits. He was sacked five times and hit 10 times overall.
The running game, behind a makeshift offensive line, was a nonfactor.
Pierce, a punishing Pro Bowl alternate selection as a rookie, rushed for just 38 yards on 11 carries for an average of 3.5 yards and a long run of seven yards.
Devin Singletary rushed for just 15 yards on seven carries as a scrambling Stroud contributed 20 yards on four runs as the Texans’ most effective runner.
Simply put, this isn’t a winning formula. The Texans (0-1 after a 25-9 loss) gained just 72 yards on the ground overall for a 3.1 average per carry.
“Five-man front, good run defense and aggressive linebackers,” Pierce said. “Nothing we didn’t practice against, nothing we didn’t prepare for. They played to their identity. We’ve just got to make sure we play to ours.”
Pierce is absolutely right. The Texans shouldn’t have Stroud throwing the football 44 times and carrying the offense. They’ve got to be more balanced. Immediately, starting with this week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“With the running game, we’ll see weekly, continue to improve our running game,” Texsans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “We’ll get as many touches as effectively as we can be in the run game. We’ll try to do that. I think we can run it more. We’ll try to run it more. I think we can be more effective at it, we can block it better, and you’ll see that.”
Easier said than accomplished, though. Especially against a stingy Colts defense coached by Gus Bradley and led by defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and linebackers Shaq Leonard and Zaire Franklin.
“With the Colts defense, they’re very sound,” Ryans said. “Gus runs a sound defense. They’ve been top 10 in run defense for a number of years. That’s one thing about them – they are going to be exactly where they are supposed to be. They’re going to play hard and be a physical unit.
“They’re going to play together and they’re going to make you earn it. That’s one thing that has allowed that defense to continue to be so successful. Talented guys up front that can get after the passer, so collectively – we had our hands full last week – it doesn’t change this week. We have to do a better job up front.”
With the San Francisco 49ers, a heavy portion of their offense was devoted to running the ball with Christian McCaffrey. How Pierce was not utilized in the first game wasn’t what the Texans had been preaching throughout the offseason. This marked a stark contrast.
“I think the value of running backs is very significant for me,” Ryans said. If you want to be a good offense, I still think you have to be able to run the ball. If you become one-dimensional, one way or the other, I think having good running backs just allows you to be multidimensional when it comes to offense, and you can’t just tee off knowing that it’s pass. So, having good backs in this league is definitely an advantage and running backs are a high value for me.”
Pierce rushed for 939 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie despite missing the final four games with a high ankle sprain. He knows it. The Texans know it. Run the damn ball.
“We didn’t hit our keys to victory, and it shows,” Pierce said. “They are keys to the victory for a reason. If you don’t hit them, eight times out of 10, you are going to lose the game, and we didn’t do that this game. Great team, they came with a great plan, they played hard, but they were who we were expecting them to be. We’ve just got to clean things up on our end. We were sloppy at times, and it got us behind the play clock and behind the sticks at times. We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
Another negative factor for the Texans beyond the substandard run blocking as Pierce didn’t have a lot of room to run, and the shoddy pass protection, was the penalties.
The Texans were penalized nine times for 88 yards, including a questionable holding penalty on Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
What about the pass protection or lack thereof for the second overall pick in the draft?
“Yeah, when it comes to the quarterback being hit, we don’t want our quarterback hit as much,” Ryans said. “We have to be better. I think overall, as a group in protection, just how are we helping? I thought we had some really good snaps in protection at times, but it’s just being more consistent in our protection, in our pickups.”
Ryans wants to see efficiency, and more of a sense of urgency. He wants the Texans to play faster.
“I think the biggest thing, the biggest improvement that I would like to see from the offense is their tempo, just in and out of the huddle,” Ryans said. “Just getting the play calls, getting in and out of the huddle faster and just playing faster. That’s what I expect to see this week. I think we did some really good things and it’s very encouraging to see what C.J. did when it comes to throwing the football. He’s very talented, we just have to play better around him and we can play better around him just by increasing the tempo and playing with more urgency.”
Pierce has said that offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik’s playbook is as thick as the Bible, but that’s no excuse.
“Procedure, bro, we shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “We’ve got a complicated offense that demands a lot of us, but, as players, we’ve got to be better at taking information and running with it and just being clean.”
As good as the Ravens are as a returning playoff team, the Texans didn’t play nearly well enough to challenge them in the second half after trailing 7-6 at halftime.
“We had a tough opponent,” Ryans said. “The Ravens [brought] a lot of pressure. Had some tough looks from that defense, credit to those guys who did a really good job. And up front, we can be better and there were a lot of snaps where we did have great protection and I think it gets overlooked at times because of the miscues. But we did some really good things up front and a lot of things that we can build off of.”