HOUSTON – Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce trusted his teammates along with his speed and instincts, following them all with faith on his fast track to the end zone.
In a burst to his right, Pierce followed key blocks by rookie fullback Troy Hairston, who popped Pro Bowl safety Derwin James, tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Brandin Cooks, to scoot up the Los Angeles Chargers’ sideline for a 75-yard touchdown run.
This marked one of the few bright spots for the 0-3-1 Texans during a 34-24 defeat Sunday at NRG Stadium as Pierce delivered the third-longest run in franchise history and the longest run by an NFL rookie since Kalen Ballage had an equally long run for the Miami Dolphins in 2018.
“It’s a play we’ve been working on all week,” Pierce said. “What’s crazy is in practice we kind of couldn’t get it right. In the game it worked out perfect. Me and Troy talked about that all week, man, because Troy is a very detailed person when it comes to fullback, because when it comes to understanding assignment, he just wants to be a great player. I told him, ‘Troy just get him anyway you can. I’m trying to make you right.’ And Troy went out there with a heck of a block, cut off of him and the rest is history.”
Proudly displaying the football inside the Texans’ locker room, Pierce rushed for a season-high 131 yards on 14 carries. This is the second consecutive game he’s scored a touchdown after rushing for 80 yards and a score against the Chicago Bears. This time, Pierce, as he had vowed, didn’t fumble after losing his grip on the football twice against the Bears.
And this special football is promised to his mother, Shameeka Rogers, who traveled to Houston from their hometown of Bainbridge, Ga. to see her son play.
“That’s going to my mama,” Pierce said. “This was her first game, her first time coming down to Texas, to Houston to see her baby play. I had to fight her to get her on the plane. We don’t do planes where I’m from.”
Pierce has rushed for 313 yards in four games and continues to grow in importance for the Texans’ inconsistent offense.
This was his longest run since high school where he was a blue-chip recruit who originally committed to Alabama before accepting a scholarship to Florida where he operated in a platoon system for Gators coach Dan Mullen.
“That’s the reason we’re starting a rookie running back,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “He can run in between tackles. He can make you miss in the open field. That’s a part of his game that we haven’t seen. Not many running backs can run for 75 yards in the NFL. That’s hard to do. He’s just kind of showing you all the things that he can do.”
On the touchdown run, Pierce caught a pitch from quarterback Davis Mills and accelerated into the open field as he patiently followed his blocks. He displayed explosiveness and vision on the run.
“That dude runs hard, that dude deserves every yard he gets,” Hairston said. ‘We have that chemistry together. I knew he was that fast. It’s different seeing it in person. When he got that second gear after he got past my block, I tried to chase him down. He beat Brandin there. It’s pretty crazy.”
Pierce is the third rookie in franchise history to rush for more than 130 yards in a single game, following Alfred Blue and Steve Slaton. He’s on pace to rush for 1,330 yards.
“It was a great run and a great game for him running the ball,” right tackle Tytus Howard said. “I thought the ran hard and fought hard. That’s just one of those runs he’s always going to remember. I’m glad I was able to part of it.”
Perhaps the Texans would have stood a better chance of winning the game if not for an ill-fated 4th-and-1 situation in the first half. On 4th-and-1, Pierce wasn’t in the game as the Texans attempted to run a play-action play involving running back Rex Burkhead. The play didn’t work out as Texans quarterback Davis Mills was sacked and the scoring opportunity was squandered. The Chargers went on to kick a field goal and led 27-7 at halftime.
“Because we had a pass call on that, and the guy we had out there, we thought gave us our best option,” Smith said when asked why Burkhead was in the game instead of Pierce. “There was a pass and that’s probably the reason why. Dameon has done some good things, but we’re not going to have him out there each play. Good play on their part, not so good for us.”
Pierce rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns last season in a Gators offensive system that platooned running backs. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 156 yards and one score. Now, Pierce is off to a fast start at the NFL level.
Given more carries, perhaps Pierce would have been drafted much higher.
“He just didn’t really have an opportunity, maybe they split the carries at Florida,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “They had some good backs there. They had some different backs through the years. When he had a chance, he was productive with his touches. I think he has good lower body strength, good body balance, pretty instinctive, has good vision.”
Although the Texans are off to a rough start, Pierce isn’t discouraged.
If anything, he’s optimistic about what’s ahead for the winless Texans.
“I feel like I saw a lot of great flashes from our team, especially the second half, of a team that we can be and a team we’re capable of being,” Pierce said. “That’s the kind of football team we could be, and coach Lovie is trying to hone in on that effort, that detail, that intensity that we played with. That’s us. That’s what we want our identity to be.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.