Texans Look For Heisman Horsepower

The Houston Texans travel to Foxborough Mass for a showdown with the AFC East leading New England Patriots. Written off as just another team that didn't make the playoffs, the Texans hope to turn the tables on the 11 point favorite Patriots. The problem is, if they can't protect their quarterback, how do they score? That's where a former Heisman winner comes in.

Texans left tackle Ephraim Salaam learned firsthand why Ron Dayne has had so much success the past two weeks. Salaam said it's simple: Dayne hurts people.

Last week when Dayne was rushing for one of his two touchdowns, Salaam tried to help.

"I almost broke my neck on one of those down by the goal line," Salaam said. "I tried to push him in, but I ran into him and my whole left side went numb."

Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner, doesn't inflict pain on purpose. The 5-foot-10, 245-pound back is just trying to clear himself some space.

He has a similar bruising mind-set to that of fullback Vonta Leach, who made his first starts the past two weeks and impressed the team with his physical blocking.

"I don't know if you can see it, but (Leach is) knocking guys down," running back Wali Lundy said. "Linebackers are scared to take him on."

Leach and Dayne have made a perfect pair. In the past two games, Dayne has rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 183 yards and no touchdowns in his first six games combined.

The Texans hope they can keep up that pace this weekend when they play the Patriots, who boast the third-best run defense in the NFL.

"It's like twin Nigerian Nightmares back there or something," Salaam said, referring to the nickname for former Chiefs running back Christian Okoye. "They have really blocked well and run the ball well for us. It's definitely an improvement and a much-needed boost in the running game."

Dayne and Leach have been pleasant surprises for a running game that ranks 24th in the NFL. Both were free agents who were out of work earlier in the season.

"Leach knows what he has to do, and if he plays well, then I can play well," Dayne said. "Hopefully he continues doing that and then I can keep playing like this."

Coach Gary Kubiak has not yet decided if Dayne will start this week. Lundy started the past two weeks. Kubiak said he is worried Dayne will get tired if he has many more than 20 carries in a game.

"He got a little wore out in the game the other day after we rode him for those two quarters, especially in that third-quarter drive," Kubiak said. "I think he has the ability to (carry 40 times). But I'm not sure he can do that right now."

Dayne said he is healthy and in good enough shape to carry the ball as much as Kubiak will let him. Despite his limited action, he has had his most prolific season since 2002 when he finished with 428 rushing yards with the New York Giants.

If Dayne keeps pushing the pile as he has the past two weeks, the Texans will have a hard time keeping him off the field. That would be fine with Dayne's teammates.

"I've been telling Ron Dayne that I've been waiting for him to show up since early in the season," Salaam said. "He adds a bit of attitude to our running game.

"When you have a guy that just can't get tackled by just one guy, offensive linemen love that because we can't block everybody. He can run a guy over or gain some yards with that guy on his back. It's a credit to him, and it takes pressure off the linemen."

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