Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
On Sunday, the Texans are hoping they get the Steve Slaton who played big for them in two matchups against the Titans last year -- not the one who gained just 17 yards and lost a costly fumble in a season-opening debacle against the Jets.
They have cause for optimism based on how well Slaton fared against Tennessee as a rookie. Against a run defense that wound up sixth in the NFL, he twice gained 100 yards. He carried 18 times for 116 yards and a touchdown in the Titans’ 31-12 win at LP Field on Sept. 21., then took his 24 chances for 100 yards in the Texans’ 13-12 win at Reliant Stadium on Dec 14.
But against the Jets he and the entire offense fizzled with 183 net yards, 11 first downs and only three third-down conversions.
“I think [the Titans] are one of the best teams in football against the run,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “Steve played good football for us last year. We’ve struggled as a team here throughout the preseason and in Week 1 running the football, so it’s been an issue for us. We’ve got to get a lot better and there is no tougher place to do it.”
No matter how much better quarterback Matt Schaub plays, no matter how well they do at getting the ball to receiver Andre Johnson and no matter how much of a boost they get from the return of No. 2 receiver Kevin Walter from a hamstring injury, the Texans will have a hard time beating the Titans if they do not run it well.
After the bad opener, much was made about the extra bulk Slaton added in the offseason, but Kubiak said the added size is not a factor that will slow him down
“He’s put on a few pounds, five or six pounds and I think he needed a few pounds as far as the wear and tear of the National Football League,” Kubiak said. “It’s nothing to lose that in a game on a given weekend. Steve’s fine. I think he came out of training camp a better player than he was last year, but we’ve got to help him as a group. We’ve got to do a better job to give him some help.”
Three of the last four games, including first-team work in the preseason, the Texans got out of whack in their run-pass ratios and haven’t even had the runs to assess how the offensive linemen are blocking and the backs are choosing the holes.
Jeff Fisher has emphasized to the Titans that two of Slaton’s biggest runs against them last year were Fred Taylor-style reversal of courses after defenders presumed him finished and he is urging his defense to play until it hears a whistle and sees the ball flipped to an official.
"It is a pride thing, and I don't know how many times a guy has gone for 100 yards three times in a row," Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "... They try to get big bodies moving sideways and he just kind of finds his hole and darts up in it. So we need to make sure we have guys in all the gaps."