Arian Foster has tallied over 4,800 total yards since the start of the 2010 season. He also has 41 touchdowns and 23 100-yard games during that span.
Some amazing stuff right there.
Then some would ask what the hell this Bleacher Report writer on this early Sunday morning is talking about? After all, it is probably too early after long Saturday nights to be reading a spiel like this. Foster is the best running back in the NFL. He is only in his fourth NFL season. How in the world could he be slowing down?
Well, let me draw it out for you in a shiny diagram with some nifty pictures below.
In the video above, you will see Foster struggling making it to the corner against a solid Miami Dolphins rush defense in the 2012 season opener. While Foster did score two touchdowns in that game, he was held to 79 yards on 26 rushes for an average of about three yards an attempt. That is 1.5 yards less than his career average.
A lot of his struggles in that game can be blamed on the offensive line and the fact that Foster just didn't have the holes to run through. That being said, if you look further into his performance against Miami, Foster struggled with the speed that we had seen in previous seasons. When was the last time you saw him get beaten to the outside by a linebacker or defensive end?
Foster's numbers have clearly declined in each of the last two seasons, bottoming out in 2012. Of course, he does lead the league in touchdowns with 10, but every other statistical category represents a downturn.
The Pro Bowl running back saw his yardage total drop from over 1,600 in 2010 to just over 1,200 last season. His average attempt dropped nearly a half of yard and his reception total decreased as well.
While Foster is on pace for more rushing yards in 2012 than he acquired last season, he is on pace to run the ball more than 100 times more this year. Foster has also caught a total of 12 passes in eight games after accumulating a career high of 66 in 2010.
He has struggled to maintain the consistency we had seen in the past this season. Foster put up just 29 yards on 17 rushes against the Green Bay Packers in a Week 6 loss. It isn't a coincidence that this is the only game that Houston has lost this season.
One of the primary reasons that Foster has seen his numbers decline is the fact that he seems to struggle late in the game. Foster is averaging just 3.4 yards per attempt after his 21st rush in 2011 and 2012 after averaging nearly seven yards an attempt in 2010.
Does this mean that the talented young running back just doesn't have what it takes to carry a team late in the game? While I wouldn't go that far, it is important to compare those statistics to Foster's breakout 2010 campaign.
Not many running backs in the NFL carry the ball in sheer volume the way he has this season. He is averaging 24 attempts per game this season. The second closest competitor in that category is Marshawn Lynch at under 21 attempts. That being said, Lynch is averaging a full yard more (3.9) than Foster in the fourth quarter (2.9).
In order to be considered a bell cow, you need to be able to pick it up in the fourth quarter and when your rush attempts are getting up there. Foster has not been able to do that thus far this season. In fact, he has struggled in that category since the end of the 2010 season.
Against Top Defenses
A true hallmark of an elite running back in the NFL is how he produces against top rush defenses. Foster was extremely good against these units in the past, but has struggled to an extent in his last five games against top 10 rush defenses dating back to the middle of last season.
As you can see above, Foster just hasn't gotten it done against elite fronts recently. He is averaging just 65 yards per game and 2.9 per attempt in these five games. Luckily, Houston was able to come away with wins in all but one of those matchups.
It goes without saying that good running backs are going to have great performances against weak rush defenses. Their numbers will most likely decrease against stout units.
However, we have seen a regression in terms of Foster's performance against the best recently. He averaged 121 yards per game against top 10 units in his previous five matchups.
Listen, I might be looking too much into it here. Foster is still one of the top five running backs in the NFL. He consistently puts up the numbers and brings toughness to the table for a Texans' offense that relies a great deal on his production.
You simply don't lose that much in between seasons at the age of 26. He is currently on pace for over 1,700 total yards and 22 touchdowns. You really cannot ask for more than that.
I am just worried that the minimal amount of regression we have seen in terms of his speed and production will have an adverse impact moving forward.