What's the Story on Steve Slaton?
Coach Gary Kubiak was up front about the benching, talking about it to Slaton and the team: "I told Steve in the locker room to get his chin up. This team needs him playing well and making plays and I'm expecting him to come right back next week and help us."
I don't know if anyone knows whether Slaton can get on track. Kubiak wants two things of his runners: one, no negative yards, no dancing in the backfield, just pick a hole and go; and two, no balls on the ground. Slaton has struggled with both of these things this year. Given that the best way to beat the Colts is to keep quarterback Peyton Manning off the field, the Texans are going to want to be able to run the ball this Sunday, and Kubiak says he wants Slaton to be a part of that.
Kubiak certainly needs Slaton's help facing the Colts on the road, a place where the Texans have never won. Last year in Indy, Slaton had his best rushing day in the NFL with 156 yards on the ground and no receiving yards. With tight end Owen Daniels done for the year with an ACL tear after leading all league TE's in yards, the Texans are going to need the rest of their playmakers to make plays. Though Slaton has very much struggled this year in his rushing yards, he has 314 receiving yards despite being pulled so early in the Bills game. The top three receivers for the Texans have been Andre Johnson, Daniels and Slaton, so they certainly want him to be on track.
Last year, Slaton got carries because the Texans had few choices. Running backs Ahman Green and Chris Brown were out due to injuries, and Ryan Moats was a guy who was added to the roster after camp. Though Moats and Brown are both healthy, the Texans are going to want Slaton's big play ability. Even so, Kubiak is going to want to reward Moats' three-touchdown performance against the Bills because he tends to want to reward great play on the field whether it comes from named stars or not. Moats had a good performance earlier in the season in limited minutes, but didn't play the next week due to a turf toe injury.
Kubiak in talking about the running back situation in his Monday press conference said he wanted to "play them all," and that he may look to working in Slaton at different downs.
The running game in general has struggled for the Texans partially due to both starting guard positions being replaced for injuries. In addition, last year, the running game started off slow and improved as the year progressed, mirroring Slaton's season. Now that teams see that he fumbles the ball, they are holding him up and trying to strip it as he tries to gain extra yardage in traffic.