Ravens Notebook

Baltimore Ravens on Arian Foster: 'He is a complete back'

Ravens on Arian Foster: 'He's a complete back'

OWINGS MILLS -- Arian Foster earned a rare nod of distinction after the Houston Texans pushed the Baltimore Ravens to the brink last season. Through a series of collisions with the Ravens' proud defense, the NFL rushing champion gained the respect of All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Foster is the last running back to hit the century mark against the Ravens, gaining 100 yards on 20 carries last season during an overtime loss to Baltimore at Reliant Stadium. Afterward, Lewis sought out Foster to salute him for his effort.

"I went up to him and told him I really liked his game," Lewis said. "We became kind of good friends off the field, but on the field that kind of changes. He is a good, humble guy, and you can see why his talent is what it is. "He nurtures it. He really works hard. You have to hit him. Seriously, he is one of the most complete backs that you can see." That meeting last December created something of a mutual admiration society between Lewis and Foster, who comes to Baltimore on Sunday as the Ravens (3-1) square off with the Texans (3-2) at M&T Bank Stadium.

Foster and Lewis hung out at the Pro Bowl after last season and in Los Angeles to shoot commercials. "He is just a genuine guy," Foster said. "He has become kind of my mentor. I look at him like a big brother. He shows a lot of love, a lot of respect for how I play the game, and it's mutual." Admiration for Foster in the Ravens' locker room isn't confined to Lewis. Gritty outside linebacker Jarret Johnson characterized Foster's 42-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers as the best run he's ever witnessed.

Foster got past Steelers All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu, one of the best open-field tacklers in the game, for the score. "You're not going to bring him down with an arm tackle," Johnson said. "You've got to get a body on him. It's a great scheme. He's perfect for it. It's going to be a big challenge for us." The 6-foot-1, 227-pound former undrafted free agent from Tennessee led the NFL with 1,616 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns last season. And Foster displayed his versatility by also hauling in 66 catches for 604 yards and two touchdowns.

"He can break a run, man, from anywhere," free safety Ed Reed said. "He is a perfect back for that offense. He has his own running schemes, the cutbacks and bouncing it. He's a playmaker." Foster is an artist in the zone-stretch play, beating defenders around the perimeter with his combination of size, speed, body lean and moves. "He's a stretch-and-cut runner, great vision," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Everywhere is the point of attack in that scheme." Foster almost seems to glide across the field with his smooth running style. As agile as Foster is, he can also lower the boom on defenders.

"He's a big, fast, physical, hard-nosed, downhill runner," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "They run the stretch scheme to a T. He gets on a track, he sees an opening, he puts one foot in the ground, and he gets north and south. "He's a big guy. He's a load. You've got to gang-tackle him. You've got to do a great job up front of building a flat wall, playing technique, staying on your feet and not getting cut. The big runs you see, they get guys running sideline to sideline because they get the backside cut off and you get big runs that way."

The Texans also operate an effective play-action scheme with quarterback Matt Schaub at the controls, using the run to set up the pass in classic form.

Because defenses can't afford to ignore Foster, it opens up the passing game. "Their offense is built on the run to get you running, get you moving, get you to make a mistake," Johnson said. "All of a sudden, you're so fixed on the run, they run a boot and they've got some guys who can get downfield.. Their big thing is to pound the run and then get big chunk plays in the passing game."

How do you defend Foster? "It takes more discipline in your technique," Johnson said. "They get guys running so fast. And when you run, you obviously have to turn, and when you turn shoulders if you see a back of a defender and you can't see their numbers, it's not good defense.

"So, you have to work on staying square, moving fast. When they cut, you've got to stay on your feet. When you get cut, when you get a guy on the ground, that's where the ball's coming every time."

Despite a hamstring injury that hampered him at the start of the year, Foster has rushed for 256 yards. He has also caught 10 passes for 134 yards. "He's a really complete back," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "He catches out of the backfield. He can make a lot of plays. He sees holes. He's fast.

"As a front, we have to hit him and get him down as fast as we can. We can't arm tackle him or just slow him down. He has the speed and quickness to get going again."

With star wide receiver Andre Johnson sidelined with a torn hamstring, Foster becomes the true focal point of the Texans' offense. In a loss to the Oakland Raiders, he caught five passes for 116 yards while rushing for 68 yards on 22 carries.

He gained 155 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers on 30 carries. The Ravens rank second in the NFL against the run, surrendering only 72.5 yards on the ground per contest.

"It's going to be a big challenge for us this week," Lewis said. "We understand that with Andre being out, and them going through them things offensively, we know they are going to try to run the ball on us. I think we are up for the challenge."

Ravens notebook: Evans, Zbikowski held out of practice

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens took a step backward in the health department. After practicing on a limited basis Wednesday, wide receiver Lee Evans and strong safety Tom Zbikowski didn't practice at all Thursday. Evans has been sidelined for the past two games with a left ankle injury that has bothered him since the preseason. With Zbikowski still recovering from a concussion suffered against the New York Jets, Bernard Pollard is listed first on the depth chart ahead of him and is preparing to start Sunday against the Houston Texans. "Very confident," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said when asked about Pollard. "It's just next man up." Meanwhile, offensive guard Ben Grubbs (right turf toe) has missed the past three games with strained ligaments with Andre Gurode replacing him in the lineup. Grubbs was listed on the injury report as a limited participant even though he was only observing practice during the portion open to reporters. Cornerbacks Chris Carr (left hamstring) and Jimmy Smith (high left ankle sprain) didn't practice again and are expected to be out Sunday. Reserve safety Haruki Nakamura (sprained right posterior cruciate ligament), wide receiver and kick returner David Reed (left shoulder), running back Anthon Allen (thigh) and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (right hamstring) were upgraded to full participation after being limited Wednesday. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said that he's encouraged about Reed's progress. Reed got hurt covering a kickoff in the second game of the season against the Tennessee Titans. "He's practicing, so we'll wait and see until Sunday, but it's good to see him out there running around," Rosburg said. "He's got a lot of energy. He's excited to play. I hope he does. It'll be a decision made by the doctors and the guys above my pay grade, but he sure looked good." Getting Reed back could energize a languishing kickoff return game. He led the NFL with a 29.3 average last season as a rookie and set a franchise record with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in an overtime win over the Texans last December. "Yeah, that was huge," Reed said of last year's score against Houston. "It felt great. It was a blessing. It was a bounce return and I broke a couple of tackles. It was good blocking and I just ran until I got into the end zone." And Reed had a 77-yard kickoff return against the Titans. He missed the first game of the season while serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy and was sidelined for the playoffs and last two regular-season games with torn ligaments in his left wrist that required surgery. It's unclear if Reed will make a full return Sunday.

"It's up in the air," Reed said. "It definitely feels better. I don't know if I'll play. It's up to them. There's some soreness, but I feel a lot better."

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (torn right hamstring) and fullback James Casey (strained pectoral) didn't practice for the second day in a row. And wide receiver Kevin Walter didn't practice because of an illness.

Quarterback Matt Schaub (right shoulder) returned to practice , but was limited. Pro Bowl running Arian Foster (quadriceps) and inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans (elbow, hamstring, knee) were limited again.

The following players were upgraded to full participation: starting defensive end Antonio Smith (ankle) and offensive guard Mike Brisiel (ankle, knee) as well as backup running backs Ben Tate (groin, Achilles) and Derrick Ward (ankle). Participating fully: cornerbacks Jason Allen (knee, groin) and Kareem Jackson (knee) and wide receiver Jacoby Jones (knee).

NGATA APPEALING FINE: Ravens All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is still awaiting word on his pending appeal of a $15,000 fine for hitting New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the back. The NFL punishment was assessed for Ngata's crushing hit on Sanchez in the Ravens' 34-17 win with the league office stating that the 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive lineman lowered his helmet. Ngata wasn't penalized during the game. "I was playing the way I was taught," Ngata said. "I didn't really like it. I didn't agree with it. Hopefully, they can reduce it or take it off. I don't think it was a dirty hit or a bad hit."

OHER AND STEVE JOBS: Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher found himself under attack recently, triggering a minor uproar when he revealed via his Twitter account that he was unaware of who the late Apple founder Steve Jobs was. "Can somebody help me out?" Oher wrote on his iPhone. "Who was Steve Jobs!"

Once the avalanche of criticism started, Oher replied: "Wow you mean to tell me everybody knew who he was!! Man get real so many fake ppl! Lol." Oher said he was caught off guard by the reaction to his question about Jobs and defended himself. "Oh man, that was terrible," Oher said. "I grew up knowing Bill Gates. I didn't know who Steve Jobs was. When did I have an opportunity to learn who Steve Jobs was? I didn't get it. It was crazy how people responded.

"I'm a pretty smart guy, on and off the field no matter what people think. I asked the guys in the locker room and half of them didn't know who he was before he died. It is what it is. People have their own opinions."

RAVENS ASK FANS TO ARRIVE EARLY: The Ravens are requesting that fans arrive early Sunday due to the NFL enhancing security measures in regards to more thorough screening.

Fans complained about lengthy waits to get into the stadium prior to the Jets game on Oct. 2. "We will do a better job of getting our fans into M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday in a timely fashion," Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said. "We do ask fans to arrive earlier, because our increased security practices make for a longer entrance process."

TEXANS' DEFENSE IMPROVES: The Texans ranked last in the NFL in passing defense a year ago and 30th in total defense, allowing 267.5 yards through the air last season. Now, the Texans have climbed to seventh in the NFL in total defense and rank sixth against the pass.

Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who installed an aggressive 3-4 scheme, the Texans have recorded 15 sacks to rank fourth in the NFL.

"Probably the biggest key is we are pressuring the quarterback much better than we ever have," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "That is the key to being successful defensively in this league - you have to be able to make the quarterback get the ball out."

The Texans have lost outside linebacker Mario Williams for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, but have rookie defensive end J.J. Watt, rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed and defensive lineman Antonio Smith. In the secondary, they added former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph.

The secondary is playing a lot better this year. "I think they have some good guys back there," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We are just going to have to make sure we do our best of running routes and staying confident in our ability to attack them."

REMEMBERING AL DAVIS:

A former Oakland Raiders secondary coach, Pagano paid his respects with a salute to the late Raiders owner Al Davis. "When that happened, I just looked back on it and I think, like everybody else, such an honor and privilege," Pagano said. "No. 1, he gave me a job. I was on the street, and I'll always be in debt to him for that. An honor and privilege to be around a man that's done so much for this game and is such a pioneer for this game. Just thinking back to everything that I learned from football to personnel and how you build a squad and all those type of things, he was a great man."

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