(Eds: With AP Photos.)By CHRIS DUNCANAP Sports Writer
The Texans already knew they could depend on Arian Foster. Turns out they can rely on Ben Tate, too.
Houston (6-3) has won three in a row heading into Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay (4-4) and is the only team with two running backs among the league’s top 10. Foster, last year’s leading rusher, ranks eighth with 656 yards and Tate is right behind him in ninth with 623.
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”It just makes the team stronger,” coach Gary Kubiak said. ”More guys contributing makes the team stronger, continues to push everybody to a new level and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
Foster and Tate have both run for more than 100 yards in two of the last three games. Foster has been getting slightly more carries each game, and averages 4.3 yards per rush. Tate is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, No. 1 in the league among backs with at least 100.
While Tate is content with the backup role for now, he’s also keeping a constant eye on what Foster is doing in games.
”I don’t think we talk about it,” Tate said. ”I just kind of know he’s a competitor, and he knows I’m a competitor, so it’s not anything that needs to be said. We just go out there and show it by touching the ball and try to outdo the guy who just touched it before you.”
With Kubiak splitting their carries, the two have learned to work together on the sideline.
”Every time I come off the field I talk to him, just to kind of see what he sees and what he feels,” Foster said, ”because we are both kind of going through the same thing. So it’s good to kind of get little bits of information. I try and share everything I know with him and vice versa, so it’s a good thing we have going.”
It’s evolved almost by necessity, as both backs coped with early-season injuries.
Foster was bothered by a left hamstring strain through much of training camp and early in the regular season. Tate, a second-round draft pick in 2010, sat out last season with a broken right ankle, so he was eager to show what he could do in the pros.
The former Auburn star rushed for more than 100 yards in Houston’s first two games and immediately gained the confidence of his teammates.
”We knew what we had in Arian last year and what he was able to do,” tight end Owen Daniels said. ”It’s been impressive to see Ben come out. I’ll be the first to tell you, I didn’t expect this out of him this year. ”
When Tate was sidelined with a groin injury, Foster ran for 155 yards in a victory over Pittsburgh. Once they were both healthy, Kubiak saw no reason not to play them together.
Now, Kubiak goes into each game with an ideal number of carries he plans to give each back.
”If it does come out the way you want it,” he said. ”that means things are going pretty good.”
A fringe benefit to dividing their carries is keeping both players from wearing down. Foster had nine rushes and Tate had seven in the second half of Sunday’s 30-12 win over Cleveland.
”That’s what we like to do,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ”You like to see that burst. When one of them comes off the sideline, it seems like they got an extra burst, rather than carrying it four or five times, especially if you carry it as much as we did last weekend. You like to have a fresh one in there. They’ve done a great job.”
Houston ranks second in rushing (155 yards per game) and has a bye week after Sunday’s game. Tate thinks the 1-2 system will keep him and Foster healthy for the stretch run.
”A running back, going into the 10th game, this is as fresh as you can be,” Tate said. ”If you’re not getting the ball 20 or 25 times a game, then it’s definitely helping your body out for the long haul.”