Unlike what I predicted in a prior article, Alfred Blue yet again received more carries than Lamar Miller. Instead of three more carries against Jacksonville, Blue outpaced Miller 16 carries to 10 against the Steelers.
In this Monday afternoon matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Texans passing offense, led by “quarterbacks” T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke, was only able to amass 93 total yards. Because of this inefficiency, head coach Bill O’Brien turned to the run game. He specifically went to Alfred Blue, who ran 16 times for 108 yards.
Alfred Blue was the incumbent running back on the Texans before Lamar Miller was signed during free agency in 2016, and the reason that Bill O’Brien has decided to return to him is a combination of two things.
The first is that Lamar Miller has underperformed his way out of the workhorse role. His 3.7 yards per carry is the lowest mark of his six year career. In addition, the 851 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns is currently less than last year’s 1,073 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The worst part about this is that he played in only 14 games last year, but has played in 15 games this year: meaning he ran for approximately 300 more yards and 2 more touchdowns in one less game. This drop off in efficiency has led to Alfred Blue taking the starting role.
The second reason that O’Brien has decided to hand the reigns to Alfred Blue is that the Texans’ season is lost and nearing an end, prompting him to want to know what he has in Blue while Lamar Miller continues to decline.
The Texans are currently 4-11 after the loss to the Steelers, are well out of playoff contention, and have three different running backs they can use: D’Onta Foreman, Lamar Miller, and Alfred Blue. All these options lead to O’Brien seeing what each of these backs can provide.
In the last two games where O’Brien has given him more carries over Miller, Blue combined for 28 carries, 163 yards, and 5.82 yards per carry. Despite the Jaguars being 29th and Steelers 19th in run defense, Blue’s performance may eat into Miller’s workload next season.
On top of Blue chipping into Miller’s workload, rookie D’Onta Foreman received an average of seven carries prior to his Week 11 injury. But despite Blue and Foreman getting lots of carries, the one area Miller has consistently dominated is receiving. Foreman and Blue have 101 receiving yards and no touchdowns combined, while Miller has 327 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The most exciting part about Miller’s efficiency on passing downs is that most of the damage occurred when Deshaun Watson was at the helm. While Deshaun Watson was quarterback, Miller had his two largest receiving games; 56 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee and 40 yards against Cleveland.
So what do all of these statistics mean?
They give a glimpse at what the Texans running back situation will appear like next season, which seems to be a committee.
Since Lamar Miller is declining in terms of rushing, and the duo of D’Onta Foreman and Alfred Blue have received more carries, it looks as if early downs will be a timeshare between the three backs. But on the flip side, Miller’s dominance in the passing game will most likely ensure he keeps that third-down role.
Despite many signs leaning towards it, the possible running back by committee next season may not occur. After all, there was a reason Miller was signed in 2016. He is considered one of the more reliable running backs in football, consistently rushing for approximately 900 yards and 5 touchdowns every season. He also rarely fumbles, only doing so seven times in 1,136 carries. And the icing on the cake is he rarely gets injured, only missing 5 games over six seasons, which for a running back is extremely durable.
All being said, Blue receiving more carries than Miller could mean something or it could mean nothing. But what Texans fans must realize is that the running game they had in Arian Foster is gone, and that they need to envision a future involving Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, D’Onta Foreman, or all three of them together.