Opinion seems to be split on Arian Foster's dominant day. Some seem to think that the holes were so wide that any back could make it through them, while others credit Foster specifically for the turnaround. Of course, on any given run one of these things could be the main factor, and if you focused on a specific run, you'd come away with what you saw on that particular play.
I think it's fair to say that both these things happened: Foster was great and the offensive line was great. To make matters worse, the Colts defense got increasingly desperate to stop the Texans and started using fronts that gave them five down linemen, and stacking the box. Good in theory, yes, but with the good blocking and a little bit of overpursuit, all it took was one great cut and Foster would be off to the races.
Credit where credit is due continues behind the jump, where we'll take a gander at Foster's cuts, Vonta Leach and the offensive line, and some overpursuit by the Colts. Along with some quick notes on the second half defense. 56 K Warning in effect.
Arian Foster has better vision than any other RB that has ever suited up for the Texans.
Foster has a lot of great qualities as a back. He's "shifty" (a/k/a big but can still avoid tackles), he has good speed (not track speed), he always seems to take a few more yards than you think he should after contact, and his cutting is excellent. But the real place he makes a difference is with his vision; not only are the cuts crisp and clean, but he has a knack for reading the defenses movements and cutting to the best place to maximize yardage.
Take a gander at this series of cuts with 2:21 left in the third quarter, first and 10 from the Houston 20:
I don't want to knock Steve Slaton, who had a few decent runs in his own right yesterday, but if Freeney spins Brown against him, that's a two yard loss. Instead, Foster turns this into an 11 yard gain with a series of excellent cuts around a few sub-par blocks.
Contrast that to this Slaton run and you'll see what I mean:
The way this play develops, Slaton is being begged to cut this outside to the left, either into the gap between Jacoby Jones and Andre Johnson or all the way to the outside. Instead, it's a short gain with no pile push. That, to me, is the biggest difference between these two right now.
Vonta Leach & the offensive line are still troubling...but for other teams this time.
You guys know my writing style by this point; I'm not big on all the buzzwords of the game. Emotion, intensity, sending a message in one play. That isn't the kind of thing I typically gush about, which is why I still have a certified degree from the "Bernard Pollard Is Slightly Overrated" Institute from last offseason.
There were many fine Vonta Leach blocks in this game, but if you want to talk about sending a message, then go no further than the first Texans rush of the entire game, where he annihilates Philip Wheeler:
There really wasn't anything special or new about the formations that Rick Dennison threw out there. It's your standard two running back, two wide receiver, one tight end I-Formation. He brought the wide receivers close to the line of scrimmage, moving them behind it at times on the snap; and that wasn't much of a difference from what Kyle Shanahan did here last year. The offensive line just played better; in particular, Chris Myers played a better game then I can recall him having all last season. Both he and Wade Smith got pushed back on a few plays, but they looked good blocking out front and picking up seal blocks. Here's one of my favorite Myers blocks yesterday, which coincidentally also contains a dose of Leach:
Once the Colts started stacking the box in the second half, the Texans stretch play cut-backs started to really burn them. Clint Session, in particular, always seemed to be lurching forward on the snap. He didn't get a lot accomplished by it; I think he caught Foster from behind to keep a play to three or four yards when he was blitzing from the weakside once, but on three or four other occasions his rashness led to bigger gains.
This isn't one of those plays that Session was involved in; just one example of the Colts' overpursuit:
Notice the stretch, the offensive line all goes right, and then the safety and linebacker follow, then Foster cuts it back and has a step on them. If he'd been able to shake Melvin Bullitt, and gotten a better block from Andre Johnson, this might've been a huge gainer. I'm also guessing the desire to stay inbounds at that point played a part in why this wasn't cut even wider out.
If you haven't savored this running attack enough yet, well, it was kind of a big deal to the media this week, both local and national. Here are some other links:
- Z Report podcast on zone game dominance.
- Steve Mariucci and later, Mike Mayock, breaking down the tape on NFL Network.
- Chris over at Houston Diehards with a detailed look of the opening drive of the second half.
- Doug Farrar's Cover 3 at Football Outsiders looking at a particular TD play, with quotes from Eric Winston.
After Kareem Jackson was exploited in the first half, he was only the main defender of two passes for the entire second half. Anyone wanna guess what was going on? Bueller? Bueller? Yep, it was zone coverage all-around. The Texans still got pressure, but Amobi Okoye morphed into somewhat of a non-factor. He only got one hurry in the second, so it became the Mario and Antonio show against the sad offensive line of the Colts.
Bush halted most of the blitzes, as the Texans only sent five three times in the second half. The good news? The two of them that came out of that three down lineman front got the Texans another sack and another pressure. Really, the four man rush was getting plenty of hurries in its own right. Especially noteworthy was the Glover Quin non-interception, which involved Manning's throw being offline because the Disruptacon had pushed Ryan Diem into Manning as he was throwing.
Due to the pressure and the zones, the Colts started running more quick drops and going underneath. Dallas Clark had another monster game, mostly accumulated in the second half, for this reason. Zac Diles, target of three passes in the first half, had eight go his way in the second. And he wasn't even really close to what you'd call "shadowing" his defender on any of them. He just made the tackle, lived with the gain, and we all moved on.
Was it optimal? Hardly. Good for the stat sheet? No. But the Texans outlasted the Colts.
By the way, since nobody else has done it (to my knowledge) in an actual post yet, the defense needs to be sending gift baskets to Joe Marciano and the special teams this week. Neil Rackers didn't launch a single touchback, but the Colts started from beyond their own 27 just twice: on the interception by Schaub, and on a punt from the Houston 24. The Colts had four drives of between thirty and fifty yards that yielded zero points because they started so far back. Kudos, kickoff coverage.