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Eric Goska column: Texans take their time on offense

Oct. 12, 2012
 
Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans offense are holding the ball more than 35 minutes per game this season.
Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans offense are holding the ball more than 35 minutes per game this season. / AP

Over the TOP (time of possession)

Since 2011, teams with the most regular-season games in which they possessed the ball for 30 or more minutes and the number of games in which they controlled it for 35 or more minutes.

30+ 35+ Team
17 8 Texans
15 7 Steelers
15 0 Bengals
14 6 Falcons
14 5 Chargers
13 6 49ers
13 3 Lions
13 2 Cowboys

More

In football lexicon, it’s called time of possession.

Down in Houston, time of production or time of prevention might be more accurate what with the way the Texans have mastered the art of keeping their offense on the field while relegating the opposition’s to the sideline.

Houston led the NFL in average time of possession (32 minutes, 41 seconds) last season. The team is again No. 1, clocking in with an even more impressive average of 35:29.

Since the 2011 opener (which will serve as the starting point for all statistics mentioned here unless otherwise noted), the Texans have held the ball longer than their opponents in 17 of their last 21 regular-season games. They’ve possessed it for 35 minutes or more eight times, most recently in their 23-17 triumph over the New York Jets that moved their record to 5-0.

Both are league bests over that span.

Hogging the pigskin can be done by performing better than the competition in a number of areas. Coach Gary Kubiak’s offense has been particularly gifted at running the ball and limiting incompletions, while his defense has become better at making life miserable for the opposition on third down.

The Texans run more than they pass. Their 729 rushing attempts are 50 more than the second-place Broncos.

And what team wouldn’t run with Arian Foster and Ben Tate at the ready. Foster (1,224 yards rushing) and Tate (942) were the most productive one-two punch on the ground in 2011. Their combined output (2,166) easily outdistanced the second place tandem of LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick (1,898) of the Eagles.

The duo is at it again this year. Though Foster (532) and Tate (117) don’t rank No. 1, their combined average per game (129.8) isn’t too far off last season’s pace (135.4).

Just how dedicated to the run is Houston? Those 729 attempts are far more than the 484 of its opponents. The Texans (plus-245) are the only team with a differential greater than 200.

While Foster, Tate and others enjoy a heavy workload, Houston passers rein in clock-stopping incompletions. The 234 the club has thrown are second fewest to the 49ers’ 218.

Again, the Texans do a better job of this than their opponents. The Texans have thrown 107 fewer incompletions than the teams they’ve faced. The gap is the largest in the league.

One reason for the disparity: coordinator Wade Phillips’ defense keeps a lid on completion percentage. The 51.9 percent the unit allowed last year was a league low as is its rate of 51.2 percent this season.

Keeping opposing quarterbacks from hitting their targets is but one of the defense’s strengths. The Texans are surrendering third down conversions more sparingly than ever. Their yield of 25.8 percent this season leads the NFL and would be a team record if maintained.

When taken together, Houston’s strengths —- its strong ground game, low levels of incompletions and defensive success on third down —- usually result in the team running more plays than its opponents. That’s been the case in 14 of the team’s last 21 games.

The Jaguars provide a prime example of how Houston can dominate. The Texans were clicking on all cylinders when they upended Jacksonville 27-7 in Week 2.

Foster led a relentless attack that pounded out 48 rushing attempts. Jacksonville ran but 14 times.

Schaub threw more passes (35) than the Jaguars’ Blaine Gabbert (19) and Chad Henne (2) combined. Yet he had fewer incompletions (9) than did his counterparts (12).

The Texans converted nearly half of the third downs they faced (8-of-17). The Jaguars couldn’t manage even one success in nine tries.

After the dust settled, Houston had run 83 plays to 38 for Jacksonville. The Texans were on the clock for a whopping 43:17.

It was ball control at its finest.

In its last loss, Green Bay’s offense got a taste of how it feels to be idled. The Colts ran 89 plays to the Packers’ 61. They controlled the ball for 35:16.

Mike McCarthy’s Packers are 3-6 in regular-season games when allowing opponents more than 35 minutes on offense. Should they extend that courtesy to the Texans Sunday night in Reliant Stadium, the flight home could easily become a time of pondering what might have been.

Regular-season series

• Overall: series tied 1-1
• At Reliant Stadium: Packers lead 1-0

Starting quarterbacks

• Packers: Aaron Rodgers (43-24 overall; 0-1 vs. Houston)
• Texans: Matt Schaub (37-34; 1-0 vs. Green Bay)

Once a Texan, now a Packer

Cornerback Tramon Williams was with the Texans in training camp in 2006.

Once a Packer, now a Texan

There are no former Packers on the Texans’ roster.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
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23%
856 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
27%
1017 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
34%
1271 votes

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Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports