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Red Zone Play: The Hammering Process

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Houston now has the tools to hammer the defense on the ground.

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NFL: AFC Divisional-Houston Texans at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

While everyone is shining the spotlight on the Houston Texansfirst round draft pick, an equally important piece of the offense has changed significantly since the 2017 NFL Draft as well. As the old adage goes, a young quarterback’s best friend is a solid run game.

With their third round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans selected D’Onta Foreman, the running back from the University of Texas. Last season, Foreman racked up 2,028 yards on 323 attempts in 2016 at UT for a whopping 6.3 yard average. He’s deceptively shifty for a guy with his mass, a true one-cut back that Houston has been missing since the heyday of Arian Foster.

On the flip side, one of the most dependable third down backs in recent Texans memory, Jonathan Grimes, has moved on. His best season in H-Town (2015), saw Grimes average 5.0 yards per carry, often breaking surprising runs to gain far more.

With the additions and subtractions at RB, we can likely predict the Texans’ running back starting depth as follows:

  • RB1 – Lamar Miller
  • RB2 – D’Onta Foreman
  • RB3 – Alfred Blue

With Kenny Hilliard, Akeem Hunt and Tyler Ervin all still on the roster as of right now, it would seem head coach Bill O’Brien has options when it comes to carrying the rock, even though Hilliard may see himself relegated to the practice squad.

Miller more than proved he was what Texans fans hoped for when he was signed last year – even if his usage was questionable. He ended the 2016 regular season with 1,073 yards on 268 carries for a 4.0 average. A significant chunk of that came by way of Miller being slammed into the A gap, which is a nonsensical way to use a back like Miller.

Foreman should have much better success as the hammer in this offense. His ability to make sure tacklers whiff is well-documented throughout his collegiate career. While many think he’s the prototypical bulldozer-back, it’s Foreman’s slipperiness that wears down opposing defenders.

Between Foreman and Miller, defenders should have their hands full chasing after the ball-carrier.

Beyond the two-headed bell cow O’Brien now has at his disposal, speedster Tyler Ervin – who failed miserably in kick return duties as a rookie - may just be the perfect compliment to the hammering process of Miller and Foreman.

Often, teams with large, powerful running backs will fire them at the defense for the first half of the game to wear down the defenders and really put the opposition’s strength and conditioning to the test. Once the third quarter is underway and defensive linemen can’t help but approach the line with their hands on their hips – a sure sign they’re gassed – you bring in the speedsters. In 2015, Tyler Ervin was one of, if not the, fastest running back in the NCAA. Akeem Hunt is also a scat-back type that’s simply going to win by running away from defenders.

By using Miller and Foreman to hammer the defense into submission, and then bringing in fresh, faster backs later in the game, there’s really no defense in the league that should be able to prevent Houston’s ground game from gaining 150+ yards each and every week.

In the modern NFL, passing is a far greater indicator of success than rushing. But, unlike in warfare, the team that controls the ground – not the air – is often the team that wins. An unstoppable rushing attack controls the clock, exhausts the opposing defense, keeps the Texans’ defense fresh, and ultimately sets up the passing game.

Case in point: Last year, every time Lamar Miller ran for 100+ yards, Houston won.

Imagine a world where Miller and Foreman both eclipse 100 yards in the same game.

Suddenly, Deshaun Watson’s job gets a lot easier. J.J. Watt and company can pin their ears back and punish the opposing offense and – barring any special teams gaffes – Houston can cruise across the finish line with another W.

Houston’s running back group put up 1,859 yards last season. Foreman broke the 2,000 yard mark all by himself at UT. While Foreman will see a far superior set of opponents in 2017, it’s not a stretch to imagine this group breaking 2,000 yards in 2017. That’s an average of 125 yards per game, which means more wins than 2016 – and hopefully the most important win of them all, the Super Bowl.

What do you think? Are you excited about Houston’s new ground game? Concerned by Foreman’s poor pass protection skills? Afraid O’Brien will only call A-gap slam plays? Let us know in the comments below!