During the 2014 NFL Draft, I noted that Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith were in the process of building a team that wanted to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball rather than conform to today’s high-flying passing conventions. Three months later, that plan seems to have paid off against an Atlanta Falcons team that struggled mightily in the trenches in 2013.
Two of the biggest additions to the offense that personify Bill O’Brien’s apparent "grinding defenses into dust" mentality are rookie tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and fullback Jay Prosch. Fiedorowicz, or "The Polish Hat", hails from an Iowa Hawkeyes offense that loved mashing defenses with the run game for four straight quarters, while Prosch made a name for himself in an Auburn Tigers rushing attack that ran the ball on third and long just because they could. These are two big, powerful road graders, and the Texans plan to use them as such.
On Houston’s first scoring drive of the day, we got a glimpse of what Bill O’Brien’s ground game might look like in 2014. Despite being without Duane Brown, Chris Myers, Brandon Brooks, and Arian Foster, the Texans took it to the Falcons' first team defense in the trenches by featuring Fiedorowicz’ run-blocking prowess.
On the next play, Bill O’Brien dialed up a run right behind Fiedorowicz. Jonathan Grimes cut back a hair too early when he could have continued to press the edge, and Tyson Clabo lost his block as well, but Fiedorowicz cleared just enough of a path for Grimes to get a first down. That kind of movement was rarely generated when Owen Daniels was blocking at the point of attack.
This was the first snap that we got to see Fiedorowicz and Prosch together. It is unclear if Clabo was responsible for neutralizing the inside linebacker on the second level while Fiedorowicz sealed the edge, but Alfred Blue managed to bulldoze his way into the open field regardless. Prosch did a nice job kicking out the "force" safety, William Moore, on the play side as well. Had Blue not been momentarily held up by the filling linebacker, Willy Mo likely would not have been able to make that tackle.
Speaking of Prosch, it was he who paved the way for Blue’s one-yard touchdown run that capped off the Texans' first scoring drive of the preseason. Paul Worrilow (red box), who has risen from undrafted free agent to capable starter for the Falcons in just a year, may as well have run into a brick wall. I would also like to give an honorable mention to Ben Jones, who showed some great power on the initial push from the left guard position. Now in his third season, it is good to see Jones start to use his natural leverage to his advantage.
2014 is shaping up to be a fun year for fans of the running game. Duane Brown is arguably the best all-around tackle in the NFL, Chris Myers is still one of the elite centers in the league, Brandon Brooks is seemingly healthy(ish) again, and Xavier Su’a-Filo is improving with each passing week. Adding a great run-blocking tight end and a hammer at fullback to an already potentially devastating offensive line should give Arian Foster more room to work with than at any other point in his career. If Foster stays healthy (and that is a big "if"), the Texans might just regain their methodically dominant ground attack from a few years ago.
In the words of Bart Scott, CAN’T WAIT.
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