Are Arian Foster and the Texans' Running Game for Real?
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster ran for 231 yards and three touchdowns against a Colts defense that had no answers. As the Houston Chronicle beat reporter put that number into context, Earl Campbell's best single-game rushing yardage total was 206.
The question is whether the Texans running game is real or a reflection that the Colts' undersized run defense is terrible. I think the signs point to real, though not at the pace shown against Indy. Here's some factors to look at:
* New Offensive Coordinator: When new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison came to the Texans, I wondered if he was going to be able to fix the team's abysmal running game. Most signs post to yes.
In public talks this offseason, Dennison said he was amazed that the team's play-action game in 2009 was so effective last year despite the struggles of the running game, and said that the running game is a key priority.
Right tackle Eric Winston attributed part of the running performance to the wrinkles that Dennison put on it in the off-season.
The big talk has been about the amount of work the Texans have put in with their red zone running game. Check out this NFL Network video that shows how the offensive line works together to create outside and inside zone running lanes.
Arian Foster: Foster was named starter at the beginning and kept that position throughout camp with a strong performance. I've thought since the beginning of last year that Foster was a good fit for this offense, and guessed he would get his chance once he could show his ability to protect quarterback Matt Schaub.
In a start where he had a full game last year, Foster put up 119 yards, two touchdowns and averaged six yards a carry. In the preseason, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
Just an Undrafted Free Agent? Some fans are denigrating Foster's play because he's "just an undrafted free agent." Last year, he went undrafted due to some injury issues and a poor senior year when the entirety of the University of Tennessee offense was struggling. Texans coach Gary Kubiak has a good reputation in giving undrafted and lower-round picks opportunities if they perform well in practice.
In a recent podcast, former Steelers line coach Larry Zierlein talks about how impressed he was with Foster's decision making in playing the outside and inside zone.
Fantasy Outlook: Ideally, in the offensive system the Texans run, they would like to use a balance of run and pass to create explosive plays resulting in a big first-half lead. Then they would like to wear down defenses in the second half by burning clock in the running game. Though they have had explosive first halves in the past, they have struggled some in protecting those leads.
The biggest problem from a fantasy perspective is that the Texans have many targets and are a pretty ego-less group. The coaches don't feel the need to play-call to show off their genius, and the players don't care much of stats either other than wins. The defense is designed to exploit defensive weaknesses, so when they face a weak run defensive group, like the Bills last year or the Colts this year, they change their play-calling accordingly.
The run-oriented game plan against the Colts last week was fairly similar to the one that was used to beat them in 2006. Both times, they were able to keep Peyton Manning on the bench for large stretches. This year, however, they have better offensive and defensive personnel.
Obviously, Foster won't continue at this pace, but do expect a large dose of the run game this year. Kubiak and Dennison believe that is what they need to make this a playoff team.