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Leinart in position to succeed as Texans starting quarterback

The Texans were just starting to create a buzz as the top team in the AFC until a foot injury sidelined Matt Schaub for the remainder of the season and thrust Matt Leinart into the starting role.

Although the team has overcome the loss of its top defensive player (Mario Williams) and dealt with the extended absence of its top offensive threat (Andre Johnson), the thought of a former first-round flop guiding the Texans the rest of the way has some forecasting gloom and doom.

However, I'm convinced that Leinart is capable of getting it done in Houston. Here are a few reasons why:

Running game can carry the day

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As much as Matt Schaub contributed to the Texans' offense with his efficient passing, it is the running game that is the foundation to their offensive attack. Houston ranks third in rushing offense behind the dynamic tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Both players are ranked among the top rushers in the league -- Foster ranks sixth with an average of 92.5 yards per game and Tate's 76.2 average places him 12th -- while spearheading a unit that churns out 158.1 yards a contest.

Foster, who has three 100-yard performances in the past four games, is a crafty runner with quickness and burst. Although he doesn't possess a style that wears down or grinds opponents, he routinely breaks tackles at the point of attack and has the ability to move the chains in an understated manner.

Tate, who has four 100-yard games this season, is a rugged runner with nifty feet. Though he lacks the speed to take it the distance, his elusiveness and wiggle make him a threat to routinely break off big runs in the Texans' zone-based scheme.

With Foster and Tate starting to find their groove as runners, the Texans have shown a greater commitment to the run in recent weeks. Houston has averaged 42.5 rushing attempts during their four-game winning streak, which is up significantly from their league leading average of 35.7 attempts. The increased production on the ground has reduced the pressure on the passing game, and allowed Matt Schaub to thrive under center.

Given Leinart's limited experience and lack of success, there is no reason to believe the Texans will alter their game plan in the coming weeks.

Offensive line will buy Leinart time

Lost amid the Texans' gaudy numbers and flashy highlights is an offensive line that should be regarded as one of the league's best. The unit, which features Duane Brown, Wade Smith, Chris Myers, Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston, has been exceptional in pass protection, only allowing 16 sacks through 10 games.

Leinart wasn't afforded that luxury during his time at Arizona, and some of his struggles were the result of leaky protection. He often threw with multiple defenders in his lap and the constant harassment resulted in costly turnovers. Of course, Kurt Warner played behind the same offensive line and posted video game numbers, but a young quarterback acclimating to the speed of the pro game could be expected to struggle behind a porous offensive line that offers little time.

However, with a better offensive line providing exceptional protection, a more confident Leinart could finally realize his potential in Houston.

Supporting cast can be the star

If a quarterback is only as good as his supporting cast, then Leinart should be in good hands in Houston. He has one of the best receivers in the game, Andre Johnson, as his No. 1 target and a complementary trio of pass catchers -- Owen Daniels, Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter -- capable of winning isolated matchups on the outside.

Johnson, who is slated to return in Week 12 following a six-game absence due to a hamstring injury, is the kind of target Leinart can turn to in a pinch. His combination of size, speed and athleticism expands the strike zone, which leads to easy throws for the quarterback. In addition, Johnson's ability to command double coverage allows Owens, Jones and Walter to feast on one-on-one coverage on the backside.

Owens, in particular, becomes an important piece of the offensive puzzle with Leinart under center. He excels at winning between the hashes and those throws are the easiest for the quarterback. With the Texans' passing attack featuring basic elements of the West Coast system, there should be plenty of high-percentage throws available to Owens.

Foster is another pass catcher Leinart will lean on. As the Texans' second-leading receiver, Foster is adept at running screens, swings and circle routes from his tailback position. This is especially significant with Leinart in the game because it gives him a designated checkdown to target when the primary receiver is covered. Given Foster's ability to turn short passes into big gains (three receptions of 40-plus yards), the dumpoff could become a valuable weapon to Leinart.

Texans run a QB-friendly system

A lot has been made of Leinart's struggles in the Cardinals' wide-open offense, but the system was never a great fit for his skills. He thrived in a West Coast-like system at USC that featured a mix of movement passes (bootlegs), quick-rhythm strikes and play-action throws. He efficiently orchestrated the attack by picking apart defenses with an array of short and intermediate throws.

In Houston, he is playing in a scheme that closely mirrors that system. The Texans extensively use bootleg passes to complement their potent zone-based running game. They are known to use the same route concepts from multiple formations with similar backfield action to take advantage of overaggressive defenders. The complementary play-action or movement routinely leads to open receivers and easy throws for the quarterback. When looking at the Texans' most explosive plays on tape, it is amazing how many of those plays come off bootleg action. With Leinart comfortable executing those concepts, the big play element could remain an integral part of their game plan.

Also, the Texans' utilization of conventional play-action passes will help Leinart complete a high-percentage of his throws. As a deft ball handler backed by a strong running game, his run-action fakes should attract defenders and lead to open passing windows on the second level. With a few easy throws behind the linebackers, Leinart should be able to string together completions and build his confidence as the Texans' starter.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks

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