Texans approach the running game differently

The Texans have been successful running the ball, but their approach with Arian Foster and their style of running and blocking is different from the way the Vikings approach it. Several Vikings defenders explain what they see on film and the keys to defending it.

Adrian Peterson has been front and center of just about all NFL discussion in the past few weeks and rightfully so. The season that he has put in has been nothing short of epic. Within striking distance of the all-time single-season rushing record, he has more than a 400-yard lead over any other running back in the league.

His workload has been immense. He has 289 carries – 21 a game on average. That places him second in the league, behind Arian Foster of the Houston Texans. Well behind Foster.

Through 14 games, Foster has 325 carries – an average of 23 a game – despite having his two lowest days for attempts coming in the last three weeks. He has 10 games with 20 or more carries – sporting individual weekly totals of an eye-popping 26-28-25-24-29-24-29-28-20-27 in that span. Peterson has two games with more than 25 carries. Foster has six.

Yet, Foster's contribution to a 12-2 division champion that is one win away from locking down home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs has been forced to the sideline of national consciousness by the miraculous season Peterson has strung together.

Foster and the Texans have nothing to feel disrespected about. After all, they're 12-2, and with a win over the Vikings Sunday they would reroute the road to the Super Bowl on the AFC side to require someone to beat Houston in their house. Yet, the accomplishments of the Texans running game have been dwarfed by the epic achievement of Peterson.

However, the Vikings defense is learning this week what 14 previous opponents have seen – there may not be a better, more well-oiled rushing unit of offensive line and running backs as the Texans possess. They're black gold, Texas tea.

"You look at all the tape on him, they manage first and second downs very well," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "It makes it an always-manageable third down that they can run or pass out of. It keeps their options open. We will have to control them on first and second down and keep Foster in check to put them in third-and-long situations."

Foster is the straw that stirs the drink in Houston. He is a prototype throwback featured back from the olden days of the NFL, where an offense ran through its featured back as much or more than a quarterback. If there is such a thing as a perfect marriage of player and scheme, it is Foster and the Texans.

"He's a shifty guy – what the coaches call a bell cow guy," defensive tackle Christian Ballard said. "He's a man who is driven to win. He runs hard and he knows where his cut lanes are going to be at. He is great at reading a defense and is a guy who takes advantage of any mistakes you make, so we have to bring our A-game."

It's become almost cliché when talking to defensive players to hear the mantra that teams have to stop the run and force teams to pass, despite clear evidence that teams like New England, Green Bay and New Orleans have won championships by boldly opting to pass first and second and run as a change of pace. The Texans aren't in that mold. Matt Schaub is a good quarterback, but is never mentioned among the elite. Why? Because the Texans offense is built around the symmetry of its offensive line and the prowess of Foster to make the system work. It's not to say that the Texans don't make big plays. They do. But more times than not, big plays in the passing game come out of the needed respect for the running game that dominates what Houston does offensively.

"With the way their offense is set up, one hand kind of washes the other," Greenway said. "Their (bootleg passes) and play-action passing game feeds off of what (Foster) is able to do in the running game. For them to be successful, he's going to get his touches and be successful. We know he's going to get them and it's going to be our biggest challenge of the year.

"(They use) the zone scheme, slash plays outside trying to get an angle and he's so good at having a feel for the play and cutting it back," Greenway said. "They get their linemen to the second level pretty well and do a pretty good job at it."

No team in the league runs plays at an angle like the Texans. The Vikings, for example, run up the gut as much as anyone. More than 36 percent of their running plays are directly over center and 56 percent of their runs are between the guard spots. The Vikings have run 142 of their 390 rushing plays directly over center and have run 83 plays over right guard/tackle and 68 plays over left guard/tackle. The Texans are a much different story.

Houston ranks 21st in the league running over center (84 plays). But, they are fourth in the league in rushing plays that are sweeps to the left (77), third in the league in rushing over right tackle (68 plays) and second in the league in rushing over left tackle (80 plays). The Texans run 18 percent of their plays (half of the Vikings' percentage) over center and 40 percent between the guard spots. The other 60 percent are run to the tackles and beyond, meaning defenses have to adjust to them running at angles and showing the patience to wait for a hole, a seam or a cutback lane to open.

"They basically want you to make the mistake," Williams said. "They go quick and side to side. If you get reached or cut off, the guy capitalizes on a seam in the front. They have a patient running back in Foster and even the backup (Ben) Tate – they're both real patient. They can see those gaps when you miss one and they hit it downhill moving."

Whether it's Foster, Tate or Justin Forsett, the Texans' running success is due in large part to an O-line that works as a cohesive unit. Imported from Denver when head coach Gary Kubiak took over, the Texans have been just as successful as the Broncos were in developing running backs that excel in their system and make plays with a one-cut "wait for it … wait for it" style that is difficult to stop.

"Those guys on the offensive line work really well together," Ballard said. "They kind of know where the weakest part of the defense in a formation is going to be. The biggest thing for us is that we have to stay on our feet. They make a lot of cut blocks and Foster is really good at reading those and hitting his cutback lanes. If one guy is out of place, they take advantage of it almost every time."

The prowess of Houston's running game has made it imperative for second- and third-level defenders to make plays to prevent huge gains. Safety Harrison Smith is going to find himself as the eighth man in the box more often than not and believes the key to succeeding against Houston is to string out plays and not try to do too much.

"You've got to be disciplined," Smith said. "You can't be too aggressive and overrun it, because he'll cut it back. They do it very well. They've got a good system going and you just have to stay disciplined."

Two months ago, this would have looked like a game that could be chalked up into the "L" column on the ledger sheet of season schedules. The Texans were riding high and the Vikings had uncharacteristically allowed four consecutive 100-yard rushers. But it could be argued that, despite the heroics of Peterson to the Vikings offense, Minnesota wouldn't still be alive in the playoff chase if not for the play of its defense in these last two "win-or-foggetaboutit" games. The continuing theme has been that these are playoff games. And, like playoff games, the challenges only get tougher the deeper you get into the pool. The Vikings have passed their first two tests. Now comes the latest one they've studied for, but aren't convinced they will ace.

Confidence isn't an issue. But from the defensive side of the ball, it's a simple matter of strength vs. strength. One team will impose its will. The only question to be answered is which team will it be.

"It's going to be a battle," Williams said. "We've seen on film what they can do to people. They've seen on film what we can do. Now we're going to have it out face to face and we'll see who can do the better job of executing their scheme and making it work."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



Viking Update Top Stories

\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" Adrian Peterson has been front and center of just about all NFL discussion in the past few weeks and rightfully so. The season that he has put in has been nothing short of epic. Within striking distance of the all-time single-season rushing record, he has more than a 400-yard lead over any other running back in the league. His workload has been immense. He has 289 carries – 21 a game on average. That places him second in the league, behind Arian Foster of the Houston Texans. Well behind Foster. Through 14 games, Foster has 325 carries – an average of 23 a game – despite having his two lowest days for attempts coming in the last three weeks. He has 10 games with 20 or more carries – sporting individual weekly totals of an eye-popping 26-28-25-24-29-24-29-28-20-27 in that span. Peterson has two games with more than 25 carries. Foster has six. Yet, Foster's contribution to a 12-2 division champion that is one win away from locking down home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs has been forced to the sideline of national consciousness by the miraculous season Peterson has strung together. Foster and the Texans have nothing to feel disrespected about. After all, they're 12-2, and with a win over the Vikings Sunday they would reroute the road to the Super Bowl on the AFC side to require someone to beat Houston in their house. Yet, the accomplishments of the Texans running game have been dwarfed by the epic achievement of Peterson. However, the Vikings defense is learning this week what 14 previous opponents have seen – there may not be a better, more well-oiled rushing unit of offensive line and running backs as the Texans possess. They're black gold, Texas tea. \"You look at all the tape on him, they manage first and second downs very well,\" defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. \"It makes it an always-manageable third down that they can run or pass out of. It keeps their options open. We will have to control them on first and second down and keep Foster in check to put them in third-and-long situations.\" Foster is the straw that stirs the drink in Houston. He is a prototype throwback featured back from the olden days of the NFL, where an offense ran through its featured back as much or more than a quarterback. If there is such a thing as a perfect marriage of player and scheme, it is Foster and the Texans. \"He's a shifty guy – what the coaches call a bell cow guy,\" defensive tackle Christian Ballard said. \"He's a man who is driven to win. He runs hard and he knows where his cut lanes are going to be at. He is great at reading a defense and is a guy who takes advantage of any mistakes you make, so we have to bring our A-game.\" It's become almost cliché when talking to defensive players to hear the mantra that teams have to stop the run and force teams to pass, despite clear evidence that teams like New England, Green Bay and New Orleans have won championships by boldly opting to pass first and second and run as a change of pace. The Texans aren't in that mold. Matt Schaub is a good quarterback, but is never mentioned among the elite. Why? Because the Texans offense is built around the symmetry of its offensive line and the prowess of Foster to make the system work. It's not to say that the Texans don't make big plays. They do. But more times than not, big plays in the passing game come out of the needed respect for the running game that dominates what Houston does offensively. \"With the way their offense is set up, one hand kind of washes the other,\" Greenway said. \"Their (bootleg passes) and play-action passing game feeds off of what (Foster) is able to do in the running game. For them to be successful, he's going to get his touches and be successful. We know he's going to get them and it's going to be our biggest challenge of the year. \"(They use) the zone scheme, slash plays outside trying to get an angle and he's so good at having a feel for the play and cutting it back,\" Greenway said. \"They get their linemen to the second level pretty well and do a pretty good job at it.\" No team in the league runs plays at an angle like the Texans. The Vikings, for example, run up the gut as much as anyone. More than 36 percent of their running plays are directly over center and 56 percent of their runs are between the guard spots. The Vikings have run 142 of their 390 rushing plays directly over center and have run 83 plays over right guard/tackle and 68 plays over left guard/tackle. The Texans are a much different story. Houston ranks 21st in the league running over center (84 plays). But, they are fourth in the league in rushing plays that are sweeps to the left (77), third in the league in rushing over right tackle (68 plays) and second in the league in rushing over left tackle (80 plays). The Texans run 18 percent of their plays (half of the Vikings' percentage) over center and 40 percent between the guard spots. The other 60 percent are run to the tackles and beyond, meaning defenses have to adjust to them running at angles and showing the patience to wait for a hole, a seam or a cutback lane to open. \"They basically want you to make the mistake,\" Williams said. \"They go quick and side to side. If you get reached or cut off, the guy capitalizes on a seam in the front. They have a patient running back in Foster and even the backup (Ben) Tate – they're both real patient. They can see those gaps when you miss one and they hit it downhill moving.\" Whether it's Foster, Tate or Justin Forsett, the Texans' running success is due in large part to an O-line that works as a cohesive unit. Imported from Denver when head coach Gary Kubiak took over, the Texans have been just as successful as the Broncos were in developing running backs that excel in their system and make plays with a one-cut \"wait for it … wait for it\" style that is difficult to stop. \"Those guys on the offensive line work really well together,\" Ballard said. \"They kind of know where the weakest part of the defense in a formation is going to be. The biggest thing for us is that we have to stay on our feet. They make a lot of cut blocks and Foster is really good at reading those and hitting his cutback lanes. If one guy is out of place, they take advantage of it almost every time.\" The prowess of Houston's running game has made it imperative for second- and third-level defenders to make plays to prevent huge gains. Safety Harrison Smith is going to find himself as the eighth man in the box more often than not and believes the key to succeeding against Houston is to string out plays and not try to do too much. \"You've got to be disciplined,\" Smith said. \"You can't be too aggressive and overrun it, because he'll cut it back. They do it very well. They've got a good system going and you just have to stay disciplined.\" Two months ago, this would have looked like a game that could be chalked up into the \"L\" column on the ledger sheet of season schedules. The Texans were riding high and the Vikings had uncharacteristically allowed four consecutive 100-yard rushers. But it could be argued that, despite the heroics of Peterson to the Vikings offense, Minnesota wouldn't still be alive in the playoff chase if not for the play of its defense in these last two \"win-or-foggetaboutit\" games. The continuing theme has been that these are playoff games. And, like playoff games, the challenges only get tougher the deeper you get into the pool. The Vikings have passed their first two tests. Now comes the latest one they've studied for, but aren't convinced they will ace. Confidence isn't an issue. But from the defensive side of the ball, it's a simple matter of strength vs. strength. One team will impose its will. The only question to be answered is which team will it be. \"It's going to be a battle,\" Williams said. \"We've seen on film what they can do to people. They've seen on film what we can do. 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