Is RB Joe Mixon the missing ingredient for C.J. Stroud, Texans offense?

The Texans’ divisional-round playoff loss to the Ravens last season exposed their biggest offensive flaw. 

Houston registered just 38 rushing yards on 2.7 yards per attempt in the game. At halftime, it looked even worse — 14 rushing yards, 1.8 yards per carry. Tailback Devin Singletary couldn’t make anything happen. 

Baltimore ranked in the top half of the league in stopping the run, and Mike Macdonald, then the Ravens defensive coordinator and now the head coach of the Seahawks, threw some looks that befuddled the Texans. The bottom line was that C.J. Stroud, who’d just completed arguably the greatest rookie quarterback season in league history, didn’t have any help out of the backfield when it was needed most. 

Stroud couldn’t carry the offense as he had most of the season — he had a 57.7% completion rate for 175 yards and no touchdowns against Baltimore — leaving Houston floundering. 

“The running game will be significant for us to improve upon,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said at his end-of-season press conference in January. “As you go through this game, especially in the postseason, teams that win games, you have to be able to run the football.” 

That brings us to this offseason. In an effort to improve a run game that tied for 22nd in rushing offense (96.9 rushing yards per game) and 28th in rushing yards per game (3.7), the Texans gave up a 2024 seventh-round pick to the Bengals for veteran running back Joe Mixon, whom they extended on a three-year, $27 million deal that includes $13 million guaranteed. 

Mixon is the new RB1 for Houston, and the team let Singletary walk in free agency. He signed with the Giants for a three-year, $16.5 million contract worth up to $19.5 million.

On paper, Mixon provides the hope for more playmaking out of the backfield. 

He played more than Singletary last season — the latter didn’t become a starter until Week 9 — and he registered a higher touchdown rate in the red zone as well. Mixon scored nine touchdowns on 59 red-zone carries (1.5%), while Singletary had four scores in 34 rushing attempts (1.1%). Overall, the Texans were a middle-of-the-pack team in the red zone (16th in the league with a 54.7% touchdown rate). 

Mixon was generally more efficient than Singletary inside the 20 too, in EPA per carry and success rate, plus he was stuffed less frequently, according to Next Gen Stats. (Singletary did, however, have Mixon beat in yards per carry in that portion of the field, with 2.9 compared to Mixon’s 2.7). And for additional context, the Texans had a marginally better run-blocking offensive line than the Bengals. In the adjusted line yards advanced metric, which quantifies offensive line responsibility on running back carries, Houston ranked 21st and Cincinnati was 23rd, according to FTN Data. 

Mixon did more with less in the most critical part of the field. Plus, the former second-round pick also brings more speed to the Texans’ running back room. 

His average speed last season was tracked at 11.84 miles per hour, per NGS. His top speed was 20.43 mph, which ranked ninth among the 23 running backs who had at least 200 carries in 2023. By comparison, Singletary’s average speed was 11.71 mph and his top speed was just 19.19 mph, which ranked 20th among the qualified tailbacks.  

Mixon brings value to the pass game, too. In the past three seasons, he has a combined 154 receptions for 1,131 yards and eight touchdowns. In the same span, Singletary has just 108 catches for 701 yards and two touchdowns. 

“I think that they’re definitely getting a playmaker,” Mixon said at his introductory press conference. “The way things were being explained and the meetings, they’re willing to showcase everything that I can do, which is very exciting. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.” 

For Houston, there is some risk in adding Mixon and letting Singletary walk. 

Singletary was one of the league’s best running backs in the second half of last season. He’s also a year younger than the 27-year-old Mixon, and has 683 fewer carries in the regular season than the former Bengal. Singletary has less wear and tear on his body and may be on the ascent, considering his finish to 2023. 

With Mixon, the Texans are banking that who he’s been will last for a few more years. He had 257 carries for 1,034 yards (4.0 yards per carry) last season — his fourth time with 1,000 rushing yards in the past six seasons, including twice in the last three years. 

Mixon also brings significant playoff experience to the Texans, who are hoping to continue their climb in the AFC. He was on the Bengals’ team in 2021 that reached Super Bowl LVI. 

“I’m not thinking about a drop-off,” Ryans said of Mixon at the NFL’s annual meeting, via ESPN. “I’m thinking about the positives and the things that he’s done in his career. He’s been consistent throughout his entire career — a guy who can move the chains for you, a guy who can open up the passing game with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. 

“He just opens up the things that we can do offensively.”

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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