On Sunday, the Houston Texans will host their divisional opponents the Indianapolis Colts to open their 2011 regular seasons. These two teams feature the two most famous body parts in the NFL. National networks have spent at least 50% percent of their coverage between Peyton Manning’s neck and Arian Foster’s hamstring.
Manning has been ruled out for the game, but Foster’s status is still uncertain. The Texans have described the condition as “day to day”, but should it be? Should Gary Kubiak and the Texans even be considering the 2010 rushing champion?
Obviously, fantasy football enthusiasts want to see last year’s ultimate diamond in the rough to play, but this isn’t a fantasy conversation. In the real world in which the Texans are trying to make their first-ever playoff appearance, the interest of the team is the only concern, not laptop toting want-to-be general managers.
It certainly sounds as if the Texans are preparing for Foster to not play. When asked what chances Foster had of playing, Kubiak stated:
“If Arian’s full-speed and can play, we want him to play,” Kubiak said. “We need to be at our best to win a football game, but at the same time, we’ve got to listen to what’s going on. As I said all along, the progress has been very good and I know there was more progress today, so maybe this conversation is different tomorrow. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Even Foster replied with a non-emphatic “I don’t know” when asked if he would play. There is no question though, that when Foster is in the lineup, the Texans are better. Some claim that the zone blocking system and the great offensive line in Houston that employs it can make an above-average runner play like an elite back.
That is incorrect. Foster’s patience, vision and decisiveness make him an ideal back for this system. There isn’t a running back on the Texans roster, and maybe all the NFL that is better for the zone running system. So for anyone enamored with Ben Tate because of an excellent preseason, please stop short before you say there is not drop off if he replaces Foster.
Tate likely wouldn’t fill the same role that Foster did anyway. Just as was seen in the third preseason game in which Foster aggravated the injury, Tate will split time with the less explosive yet more trusted Derrick Ward. Ward is viewed as the better back in pass protection, something obviously important for Kubiak whose doghouse Tate has spent considerable time in.
Even though there is a drop off from Foster to the Ward/Tate committee, but not a considerable one. When you consider the opponent, it might be much better to give Foster at least one week to rehabilitate an injury that has a tendency to be nagging in nature.
My consideration of the opponent has nothing to do with Manning being ruled out for the Colts and therefore writing the game off as a win for the Texans, by the way. It is more due to the fact that the Colts do not have a good run stopping defense.
The Colts gave up 127 yards per game last season which was good for 26th in the league. The preseason isn’t always indicative of how the regular season will be, but considering that Indianapolis was third-worst in run defense in the four exhibition games, it’s hard to predict them to improve in 2012.
Against a better run defense, the loss of Foster would be more noticeable. Considering, however, that the Colts defense has been designed to play with a lead and therefore not overly concerned with teams running the ball too much, rushing Foster back too soon would be unwise.
There’s an additional issue at play. Many have speculated that Steve Slaton was kept on the roster just to fetch a late-round pick in a trade to a running back needy team. Slaton obviously isn’t needed for the Texans considering the players ahead of him, but if he’s healthy he could be a great get for a sixth-rounder in 2012.
If Foster is held out of the game, the porous Indianapolis could be the perfect opportunity to showcase Slaton’s talent for a prospective trade partner. If the game is going well and the Texans are ahead in the second half especially, you could potentially see a lot of Slaton in the third and fourth quarters.
Overall, I don’t see the sense in bringing back Foster too early. If the Texans lose to the Kerry Collins led Colts, it won’t be because they missed Foster’s elite running skills. Furthermore, it is possible that Foster wouldn’t play at the elite level on Sunday due to his injury anyway.
Fantasy football players may not like it, but it doesn’t make sense on any level for the Texans to play Foster on Sunday.
Disagree or have a question or comment you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments or let me know on Twitter (@JakeBRB).
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