DENVER – Dameon Pierce was decisive and powerful and had his moments where he punished the Denver Broncos’ talented defense with his straightforward running style.
During a 16-9 road loss at Empower Field at Mile High, the Texans’ rookie starting running back served notice on why offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and coach Lovie Smith adapted the game plan to incorporate more touches for him.
The fourth-round draft pick from Florida rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per run. Pierce appeared to be headed toward his first 100-yard game if he had more opportunities. He appeared to be more patient in waiting for his holes to develop and displayed better vision and decision-making skills.
Pierce rushed for just 33 yards on 11 carries during a 20-20 tie to the Indianapolis Colts to open the season.
It was an altogether different story against the Broncos. He was the only Texans running back to carry the football. He played 39 snaps overall, 62 percent of the total offensive plays. “We could have played better, obviously not the outcome we wanted,” Pierce said. “We can always build on the run game. Because that’s one thing the line wants, the offense wants and we want to improve going forward. I can always improve. I felt like the crowd noise got in the way a little bit, communication deals, nothing major.
“Every loss is tough. You never want that loss on your record. Go back to the drawing board, look at our chess pieces, move them around a little bit and get better from any and every situation.”
Pierce’s encouraging performance sparked a lackluster offense and represented one of the few bright spots on that side of the football.
One of Pierce’s best plays, running up the middle for five yards to convert a 4th-and-1 situation in the third quarter.
“These games are coming down to crunch time and clock management,” Pierce said. “As a team, we started fast and hard. We just couldn’t pull that rabbit out of our hat at the end of the game.”
It wasn’t enough, though, as quarterback Davis Mills and the passing game faltered as they were clearly out of sync.
“We stalled,” Smith said. “We’re not there yet. It’s kind of simply that. We show flashes of what we can be. This week, it seemed like there’s a commitment to the run, I thought Dameon did some good things when he had an opportunity to carry the ball but it’s just not about the running game. You’ve got to be able to pass the ball, too.”
The Texans want to establish the run. That’s been a theme for them ever since finishing last in the NFL in rushing offense a year ago.
Pierce beat out veteran Marlon Mack, now on the San Francisco 49ers practice squad, during the preseason.
“I thought he put together a really good day,” Mills said. “It’s exciting when the run game is going. He had some big time runs, and he was making it happen. That’s something to build on. Obviously if the run game is good, it opens up a lot of stuff in the pass game as well. Something to build on, but I thought he had a good day.”
The Texans gained just 77 rushing yards on 28 carries for a 2.8 average per run against the Colts. Both Pierce and Rex Burkhead’s longest runs were eight yards against the NFL’s 10th-ranked run defense from last season.
Pierce had just 16 yards on five carries in the first half. In the fourth quarter, Pierce had three runs for 10 yards. In overtime, Pierce had zero touches.
The Texans made it a point of emphasis to increase his workload at Denver.
He had a long run of 12 yards, and the Texans finished with 80 rushing yards for 4.4 yards per carry.
Pierce’s physicality gets the offensive line juiced up.
“Hard-nosed running back, smart player,” rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green said. “Just an all-around great player, good person.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com