Barry Cofield knows what’s a head of him this Sunday in Houston – a hard-running, productive running back in Arian Foster that nobody had a clue about last year.
Those are the guys who make defensive players and coordinators lose as much sleep over as the perennial Pro Bowler.
“He’s a good combination,” the defensive tackle said of Foster. “He’s not the biggest back or the fastest back. He’s a young guy who kind of came out of nowhere. Sometimes you don’t get the opportunity because of who you’re playing behind, but you figure it out. And he’s definitely figured it out.”
Apparently so. The Colts found that out in Week 1, when the second-year player went for a franchise-record 231 rushing yards.
An anomaly? Only in the immensity of the production. He has since amassed more than 300 more yards, giving him a league-high 537 on the season. That, and his 152 receiving yards puts him in the company of Hall-of-Famers Emmitt Smith and Billy Sims as the only two players in NFL history to go for 500 rushing and 100 receiving in the first four games of the season.
This from a guy who spent the first 10 weeks of 2009 on the Texans’ practice squad, and who only got his chance when Steve Slaton got hurt.
Combine him and WR Andre Johnson, who should return to action this week after sitting out the last couple with ankle problems, and the Texans sport one of the more balanced offenses in the league.
But it’s Foster who has made quarterback Matt Schaub all that much more effective. Using the Texans’ zone-blocking schemes in front of him, he has consistently found the cracks and cutback lanes to slice up defenses.
“They’re balanced, but they have the most success running the ball,” Cofield said. “After what we did to the Bears last week with 10 sacks, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just come out and run the ball. That’s the first step, and you go from there.”
It’s a big step, one that will need a disciplined form of play to cover the cutback lanes. The continued absences of LB Keith Bulluck (toe) and DE Mathias Kiwanuka (neck) will make that even more difficult, especially in the linebacking corps where strongside starter Clint Sintim has limited experience and has shown even less productivity.
“It’s really a good scheme and you have to be disciplined defensively,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “If you’re not, they can crease you, and then (Foster) is good – he has good vision, and when he sees the hole, he can plant his foot and turn up in the hole, and he has enough speed that he can accelerate through that hole and gain 10, 12, 14 (and) sometimes take it the distance. He’s got good vision plus they have a good scheme and it’s a tough scheme to defend against.”
The 227-pound Foster sees all with tremendous vision. But he also is strong enough to run through tackles.
“He's a patient runner,” DE Justin Tuck said. “In that scheme, you have to be. He's powerful, too. I didn't know he was as powerful as he is. He's broken a lot of tackles. He's run through a lot of tackles, and he's fast. So I don't know if I can compare him to one specific guy, but he's having a great year. I think he's leading the league in rushing. So maybe he's in a class of his own right now.”
Catch Foster, though, and the Giants will have shut down half the 3-1 Texans’ offense. It’s a huge key this week.
“You have to tackle well against these guys,” Fewell said. “You must knock them off schedule. We want to create third and long situations for them and they don’t have a lot of third-and-long situations. If you look at them statistically, they’re a third-and-three team, third- and-four team and they can throw the quick game out there to those receivers and then it’s first down again. It’s going to be a big challenge for us to play first down very well against this football team.”