The Houston Texans secured the AFC's best record before using their bye for a long break to rest and recharge. Now they chase their goal of reaching the Super Bowl.
The first task comes when they host Buffalo on Sunday.
The biggest concern for the Texans (6-1) coming out of the bye week is depth at running back with Ben Tate hampered by a hamstring injury. Coach Gary Kubiak hoped the break would give Tate time to get healthy. Instead Tate missed practice Monday, and Kubiak said he's still "a few days away" from getting back on the field.
The Texans look to Tate to help ease the load of Arian Foster, whose 168 rushes lead the NFL.
"We need him," Kubiak said of Tate. "He's very important to getting Arian rest, and our success as a football team."
Tate's durability has been an issue since the Texans drafted him in the second round in 2010 out of Auburn. He missed his entire rookie season after breaking his ankle in the first preseason game. He appeared in 15 games last season and finished with 942 yards rushing as a complement to Foster, but missed a game this season with a toe injury before hurting his hamstring against Baltimore.
"It seems like it's been one thing after another," Kubiak said. "There was the toe and now the hamstring. This has been going on for a few years ... he's struggled to stay on the field. There's nothing you can do about it ... he's going to miss some time here. You're not going to see him back all of the sudden in the next day or two."
Until Tate gets healthy, the Texans will rely on Justin Forsett as a backup to Foster, who is fifth in the NFL with 659 yards rushing. Forsett is in his first season in Houston after spending the last four years with the Seahawks. He has 23 carries for 120 yards this season.
"I have a lot of confidence in Justin," Kubiak said. "So I'm going to go and play Arian and Justin just like I would Arian and Ben. So I'm not going to do anything different."
Forsett, who ran for a career-high 619 yards and four touchdowns in 2009, is ready to fill in if necessary.
"You've just got to be patient, wait until your time comes and just be ready when that time comes," he said. "I think I've been doing a good job of staying prepared and staying ready in that mindset of you never know when you're going to go in, so just try to work hard and get ready for this week."
Kubiak doesn't feel comfortable having just two healthy running backs on the active roster and said the Texans may consider signing practice squad player Davin Meggett to the roster if Tate doesn't improve.
Tate said he's feeling better and believes he's improving, but he isn't sure how long he'll be out.
Foster feels fresh after the break and thinks too much is made of his workload. He hopes to have Tate back this week, but is also comfortable with Forsett.
"He's an important part of what we do. I can't wait until he gets back healthy, but until then, Justin Forsett is a very capable back," Foster said. "We've seen what he can do already. That's just the nature of the business. Somebody goes down, the next guy has to step up."
While the offense deals with this issue, the defense is looking to build on a solid start seven weeks. The 283 yards a game the Texans are allowing are the third fewest in the NFL.
Still, defensive end J.J. Watt is irked that they didn't enter their bye with a perfect record.
"We lost a game so we don't want to do that again," he said when asked how they could improve going forward. "I think the biggest key to our success is we need to stop the run ... make them throw the ball and then attack the passer and make them uncomfortable, make him force some throws that he doesn't want to make, and give our DBs a chance to make plays."
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