Texans find offensive identity through Lamar Miller, running game

Lamar Miller and the Texans have the fifth best rushing attack in the NFL this season, averaging 121.4 yards per game. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON -- Although quarterback Brock Osweiler was the biggest free-agent addition to the Houston Texans, running back Lamar Miller has proven to be a more important piece so far. After nine games, Houston has found its identity on offense through Miller and its rushing attack.

Against the Jaguars on Sunday, Miller averaged more yards per carry (5.5) than Osweiler did per passing attempt (3.67) for the second time this season. The Texans ran for a season-high 181 yards in Jacksonville, en route to their first road victory of the season.

Through nine games, the Texans have shown that they are a run-first team. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Houston has run the ball on 40.2 percent of plays this season, which is the ninth-highest in the NFL. Their percentage of running plays on first down (47.4 percent) ranks 15th in the NFL.

Houston has also chosen to rely on its running game while playing in close games. When the game is within seven points, the Texans run an NFL-high 45.7 percent of the time. On first down in those 7-point games, Houston runs it 56.7 percent of the time, the third-highest mark in the NFL.

"A lot of things in this league stem off the run game," Osweiler said. "You need to be able to run the football so that you can stay balanced and so you can kind of keep defenses guessing what's going to come next. You never want to become one-dimensional in this league. I think, just like any other game, the run game is just as important as the pass game."

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said he thinks the running game, which has shown steady improvement throughout the season, is in a good spot right now.

"But every week's different. This is a very, very stout defense," O'Brien said of the Texans' upcoming game against the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football in Mexico City. "They've got big guys inside, good guys on the edge and fast, athletic guys on the inside at linebacker, so it's going to be a different challenge."

O'Brien also said Osweiler gets credit for some of the success the running game has had.

"He's done a good job," O'Brien said. "We make a lot of decisions at the line of scrimmage in the running game and in the passing game. He's done a nice job of doing that in the running game."

The Texans currently have five running backs on the roster: Miller, Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, fourth-round pick Tyler Ervin and Akeem Hunt, who was just promoted from the practice squad to the active roster last week.

Hunt was signed to the roster in part because of injuries to Miller (shoulder), Blue (calf) and Grimes (illness). According to O'Brien, "this is the time of year when those guys are banged up and they need a rest, they need somebody to be able to come in and play for them and help them."

The running game has also been helped by the offensive line, which is finally healthy and playing its best football of the season, led by Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown.

"I think Duane is playing really well, I'll say that to start off. I think he's having a really good season. I think overall they all played a good game yesterday. Duane, Xavier (Su'a-Filo), (Greg) Mancz -- give credit to Mancz, going in there as basically a rookie playing the way he's playing is good. I thought Jeff Allen played really well.

"I give all those guys credit. Whenever you rush for 180 yards, it's not just the backs obviously. Those guys upfront are doing a good job and that was good to see."