AFC South: Arian Foster

Camp preview: Houston Texans

July, 17, 2014
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NFL Nation's Tania Ganguli examines the three biggest issues facing the Houston Texans heading into training camp.

Johnson's absence: Texans receiver Andre Johnson already has lost his $1 million roster bonus because of his absences this offseason, and he reportedly has asked for a trade. It could get worse. The Texans can fine him up to $30,000 for each day of training camp he misses. Johnson has made a lot of money during his time with the Texans; that investment is part of why they aren't interested in letting him go right now, either by trading or releasing him. They also would take a pretty significant hit to their salary cap. Moving Johnson now would stick the Texans with $12 million in dead money. But Johnson's perspective is sympathetic. He has played on a lot of bad teams and talked frequently before last season about the difficulty of doing so. It shocked him that the Texans went 2-14 during the 2013 season, and his outlook on the 2014 season isn't rosy. Imagine this scenario from Johnson's point of view: He spends 2014 toiling through a rebuilding year at age 33, then gets released or traded next year as his salary rises and cap hit falls. He'd much prefer spending 2014 with a contender.

Return of the wounded: Three important players had surgery during or after the 2013 season, and their progress will be something to follow. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph had foot surgery, inside linebacker Brian Cushing had knee surgery and running back Arian Foster had back surgery. It was the second season in a row that Joseph and Cushing had surgeries. Last offseason Joseph had two sports hernia surgeries, and last season Cushing had surgery on his other knee to replace a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Foster was back for organized team activities and the Texans' minicamps. Cushing and Joseph weren't fully practicing, so their health will be important to watch. And, of course, one very important rookie also had surgery in June. Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in May, had surgery to repair a sports hernia he might or might not have been dealing with during his final season at South Carolina. Clowney's progress will be key for the Texans, who weren't expecting him to need surgery upon his arrival. They need him to start at outside linebacker and help bolster their pass rush. The good news for Houston is the recovery time for sports hernia surgery -- about six weeks -- lines up perfectly with the start of training camp.

Fitzpatrick's learning and teaching: Texans coach Bill O'Brien announced Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team's starting quarterback on the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp. He said Fitzpatrick earned the position with his ability to pick up the Texans' offense and his steady improvement in it. Fitzpatrick's past includes spots of brilliant mobility, but there also are overextensions and too many turnovers. His responsibility this season will be twofold. First, he's to guide the Texans offense, protect the football and manage the game. Second, he's to help teach rookie Tom Savage the craft of an NFL quarterback. Savage spent his college career with three different programs, lacking the stability needed to really learn and get better. The good news for the Texans is that makes Savage a fairly blank canvas. He shouldn't have habits that make it difficult to learn a new system or be so set in his ways that the learning process gets stuck.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster is looking forward to working with a new coaching staff and a new offense – and being healthy again.

Foster
Foster
Foster told the Houston Chronicle during a guest appearance at a bowling alley opening that he is appreciative of the former coaching staff because they gave him his start, but he’s eager to get immersed into coach Bill O’Brien’s offense.

"So far, I really like it," Foster told the Chronicle. "It’s very versatile.

"Coach O’Brien has expressed to me how he wants to use me out of the backfield. That’s one of my strengths."

Foster has been an effective receiver out of the backfield, catching 189 passes and averaging 9.1 yards per reception in his five-year career, but his receptions dropped to 40 in 2012 after he caught 66 and 53 passes in the previous two seasons. He caught just 22 passes in eight games last season.

Foster is excited about the possibility of being more involved in the passing game, which should allow him to approach the 1,800-yard mark in total offense in 2014 – provided he stays healthy. He battled through hamstring and calf injuries before a back injury landed him on the disabled list last season. Foster ran for just 542 yards in only eight games.

That is the biggest key for the Texans’ offense, especially since the quarterback situation is still an uncertainty. Whichever quarterback wins the job – and the favorite is probably journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick – will need a strong running game to be successful. The Texans no longer have insurance with Ben Tate, who signed with Cleveland.
On Thursday, before a showing of the movie "Draft Day," Houston Texans running back Arian Foster said he is healthy, has been working out for a couple months and will be available for organized team activities.

Foster
Foster
It's great that Foster is feeling well, having had back surgery in November. At this point, that's obviously better than the alternative. But the real test of his health will come much later.

After all, recall that Foster entered last year's OTAs in great shape. Former Texans coach Gary Kubiak said at the time it might have been the best shape he'd ever seen Foster.

What followed was a difficult season for Foster, physically speaking. He had a calf injury in May that caused him to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. He missed the preseason, but played starting in Week 1 of the regular season. Then on Oct. 20, Foster suffered a hamstring injury during a pass play that left the Texans with only one -- a broken-ribbed Ben Tate -- running back that day.

So while it's great Foster's body has healed, the real tests for him will come later. They'll come when practices begin, and when, more importantly, games begin and Foster deals with the grueling nature of his position.
Just two seasons ago, the AFC South was a running back's paradise.

Three of the highest-paid running backs in the league belonged to the Texans, Titans and Jaguars. Only one remains in the division: The Texans' Arian Foster.

Johnson
Former Jaguars star Maurice Jones-Drew signed with the Oakland Raiders in free agency and on Friday the Tennessee Titans released Chris Johnson. (We broke down the chances of each team isigning him; I rated the Texans as low.)

The AFC South is following a trend. It's not that the running game isn't important -- it is hugely important -- but individual running backs aren't as valuable to teams anymore. The free-agent market showed that: Former Texans running back Ben Tate received a miniscule $6.2 million over two years to be the Cleveland Browns' starter.

The reason? I checked in with a few coaches during the owners meetings last week.

"I don't think you can have just one," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We were at our best when we had two and sometimes three. Way back when we had Derrick Ward with us we had three and all three contributed very much. I think you need to have depth, you need to have versatility... The best are the backs that you evaluate today all have to have someone that comes in the game. Going way back it may not have been as important as it is now. Today it is."

There was a time when running backs were stars -- Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell. That time is waning.

"It's probably the most punishing position on the field," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "You look at it as a position that you want to have a first-down runner, a change of pace runner, there's different body types and there's different skill sets.

"You've got to have a running back that can pass protect. ... He's very involved in pass protection. Very rarely do you see a true four-down alignment. He's got to be able to identify the defensive formation, who the line's going to take and who he's going to take. Defensive coordinators do such a great job of changing up who's rushing. He's got to be the guy that blocks the fifth or sixth rusher. Never really have an idea who it's going to be. I think it's gone to more of a committee position."

The AFC South held on longer than most, but this change is enveloping this division, too.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars had the least-talented roster in the NFL in 2013.

Based on what head coach Gus Bradley was able to do in the second half of the season and the success of general manager David Caldwell's first draft, there is a lot of optimism that the Jaguars will make progress in 2014. It won't be a turnaround similar to what the Kansas City Chiefs made from 2012 to 2013, but the Jaguars should be significantly better next season.

They aren't the only team in that situation, though. During the NFL Nation season wrap-ups, eight bloggers among the 20 who cover non-playoff teams said the teams they cover are trending up heading into the offseason: Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee, St. Louis and the New York Jets.

Some, like the Cardinals and Steelers, were close to making the playoffs in 2013. Others, such as the Texans, Jaguars and Rams, didn't even come close. But all of those teams should take steps forward in 2014.

The eight bloggers got together, thanks to Bills reporter Mike Rodak, and ranked those eight teams based on their chances of making the playoffs next season. Not surprisingly, the Jaguars finished last. Yes, behind a Texans team that is riding a 14-game losing streak.

Houston had the league's worst record in 2013, but the Texans do have some talent on the roster -- led by J.J. Watt, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson -- and need only a piece or two to become a playoff team again. Quarterback is the top priority, of course, but a change in leadership from Gary Kubiak to Bill O'Brien also could provide the boost the Texans need to make them a factor in the AFC South again.

The Jaguars went 4-4 in the second half of the season (two victories came against Houston) but they have so many needs and holes to fill that it'll be another season before they can realistically make a playoff run. Caldwell and Bradley have to find a quarterback, a pass-rusher, a running back and outside linebackers. They have to beef up the interior of the offensive line and add quality depth at defensive tackle.

It wouldn't hurt to add a big, physical receiver to the roster, either.

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

December, 12, 2013
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J.J. Watt and Andrew LuckGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt's Texans aren't playoff-bound like Andrew Luck's Colts, but Sunday's hosts haven't had it easy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be a game that had AFC South division title implications between a Super Bowl contender and a playoff team, one that could have even been flexed on the schedule.

At least that's the way it was envisioned when the season started.

Instead, it'll be a battle of two teams dealing with a number of issues when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20 and haven't had consistency on offense, defense or special teams in weeks. The Texans ... well, they've been a disaster this season. They are on an 11-game losing streak, benched their starting quarterback and fired their head coach.

ESPN.com's Colts reporter Mike Wells and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli weigh in on the two struggling teams.

Wells: Tania, obviously the big news -- really the only news -- to come out of Houston in the past week was the firing of coach Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips takes over as the interim coach. Teams tend to rally around interim coaches or just shut them out. What do you think the Texans will do with Phillips?

Ganguli: I don't think they'll shut him out, but wanting to succeed for the coach was never a problem in Houston. They wanted to win the last Colts game for their head coach, who left at halftime in an ambulance. They wanted to win the following week in Arizona for their coach, who watched from home as he recovered from his transient ischemic attack. It's not a matter of wanting the win -- the process has gotten lost. Two weeks ago, the Texans made so much progress in fixing their issues and then last week they went to Jacksonville and completely lost their discipline, committing a franchise-record 14 penalties for 177 yards.

The Colts are now back on top of the AFC South. What was the mood like for the team upon clinching the division and a playoff spot?

Wells: It was a bittersweet feeling for them because they needed help from their good buddy Peyton Manning in Denver to win their first division title in three years. The Colts wanted to go into Cincinnati and win it by themselves so that they would be able to avoid getting it in the side or backdoor. That obviously didn't happen. But a division title is a division title no matter how you get it. That's how the Colts should look at it, especially since they were 2-14 just two years ago and many people thought the Texans wouldn't have a problem winning the division for the third straight season.

I'll be the first to say I picked the Texans to win the division this season. I'm sure there are probably a lot of reasons why they've been a major bust. But does one reason stand out more than others?

Ganguli: If I had to choose one, I would say the quarterback situation has been the biggest reason. It was completely out of the blue. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I don't think Matt Schaub played poorly most of the time, it's just that pick-6's are such dramatic momentum swingers. Really, though, it's been a combination of a lot of things. If you look at their stats, you'd expect the team to have a much better record. After Schaub, they went through Case Keenum's learning process, which is ongoing. Kicker Randy Bullock had a rough start, which impacted the team's record. He has improved lately, but by then the Texans developed other problems, like the loss of four important players to injury: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Danieal Manning, running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels has a chance of returning this week. And of course, I mentioned the meltdown of discipline that led to what happened last Thursday in Jacksonville. That was a problem early in the season, but unusual for the Texans lately. They had four penalties in the previous two games combined.

I expected the Colts to be better than they are, too. Do you think this team has taken a step forward or backward from last season?

Wells: I thought the Colts had more talent this season but they wouldn't be able to duplicate their 11-5 record from last year. I was right about their record but wrong about their talent. Season-ending injuries forced the Colts to take a step back in the talent department. They're known for using the phrase "Next Man Up" when dealing with injuries. There really isn't a Next Man Up when it comes to replacing future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The Colts thought acquiring running back Trent Richardson would soften the blow of losing Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. That hasn't been the case. Richardson's struggles since coming to Indianapolis have been well documented. So injuries and players not living up to expectations are the main reasons why the Colts have taken a step back

We talked about the benching of Schaub prior to the first meeting between the two teams in early November. Receiver Andre Johnson made Keenum look pretty good in the first half of that game. Has Keenum shown enough to prove he's worthy of being the team's quarterback for years to come?

Ganguli: He's had good moments and bad ones. I think the bad moments are fixable, but whether he'll be able to fix them remains to be seen. The end of this season is an audition for him just as much as it is for Phillips. He has to show he's learning how to read defenses and make better decisions. There are times when Keenum hangs on to the ball too long because his internal clock isn't quite where it needs to be yet. He is learning that sometimes it's better to take the checkdown. He's learning that turning his back on the field when a rush comes at him reduces his options. If he stops growing where he is now, he'll have a career as a serviceable backup. If he continues to improve, he has the chance to be a starter.

To wrap up, let's talk about the quarterback up there, which I know we have before. How would you assess the season Andrew Luck has had?

Wells: Two words: A struggle. But it's not Luck's fault. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season. The running game has been more poor than good. The biggest reason behind it, though, is because of the loss of Wayne. Wayne was Luck's security blanket and nobody has stepped up to help him out. Luck is good, but you can't forget that he's only in his second season and is still learning. Rookie Da'Rick Rogers had a breakout game against Cincinnati (107 yards) last weekend and believes he can be Luck's third-down go-to guy.

HOUSTON -- After a perplexing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he gained only one yard on just seven carries, running back Ben Tate was asked if anyone knows why his Houston Texans season has gone as it has.

"Maybe God?" Tate said.

Certainly not anybody in the Texans' locker room. He was asked if "embarrassing" was the right word for where the Texans are right now and he agreed.

Perhaps there's solace for the Texans in the fact they aren't alone in their dramatic tumble.

On Nov. 25, 2012 the leaders of the AFC and NFC were the Texans and the Falcons, both at 10-1. Today is Nov. 25, 2013 and they are both at the bottom of their conferences, both at 2-9.

The Texans are on a nine-game losing streak and the Falcons are on a five-game losing streak. The Texans had to come from behind to win their first two games of the season against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans. Then the luck ran out. The return of Ed Reed, who missed those games recovering from hip surgery, coincided with the beginning of the longest losing streak in franchise history.

Their quarterback, Matt Schaub, faltered, setting an NFL record for consecutive games with a pick-six with four, and Case Keenum, his successor hasn't been able to play well enough to change things. And while dealing with that, a significant injury avalanche began. One after another, tight end Owen Daniels, strong safety Danieal Manning, inside linebacker Brian Cushing and running back Arian Foster are all on injured reserve. Daniels could come back next week, but in his absence this season was lost.

What happened to the Falcons? I checked in with our Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure:

"I believe injuries are the main reason -- but not the only reason -- for the Falcons' decline this season. Losing top offensive threat Julio Jones (foot surgery) sucked the life out of the offense and allowed opposing defenses to play more honest. And with No. 2 receiver Roddy White battling ankle and hamstring injuries for most of the season, the high-powered Falcons lost that much more steam. Left tackle Sam Baker wasn’t the same player before going on injured reserve with a knee injury, while linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's presence was missed as the defensive leader when he was sidelined seven games due to a Lisfranc foot sprain.

"Throw in losing defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles) for the season after Week 2 and the Falcons really never had a chance to get going on either side of the ball. Struggles by the offensive line to keep pressure off Matt Ryan and open holes in the running game have hurt, too. So has the inability for the defensive line to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which has contributed to the 18 plays of 40-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons."

Now they're two of three teams with a league-worst 2-9 records, all jockeying for draft position. It's possible that adding a high draft pick to their already-talented rosters puts them in strong positions going forward. But that turnaround will require making the right decisions in the draft and filling the holes this season exposed properly.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 10

November, 11, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A look at four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeBen Tate
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBen Tate will aim to boost the Browns' offense with his physical running style.
Andre Johnson wasn't giving up those touchdowns: Texans receiver Andre Johnson was a big part of what kept Houston in the game. He caught a first-quarter touchdown and a fourth-quarter touchdown, barely getting his feet in. He admitted after the game that Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson had good coverage on him, but added that wasn't going to get in the way of his own determination to come down with the ball.

Should the Texans have stayed on the ground more? Ben Tate, now the Texans' starting running back with Arian Foster headed to injured reserve, thought the Texans should have run the ball more in the second half. "I felt like it was working," he said. "I don’t understand why we went away from it. Besides that, I really don’t know. We just can’t play one half of football every week. If we were playing one half of football, we’d be doing great right now, but there’s two halves." The Texans ran the ball 14 times in the first half and seven times in the second half. Tate said that while he wasn't 100 percent (still recovering from broken ribs) he felt he was effective and could have carried more.

The feat of the foot: A few weeks ago when I approached punter Shane Lechler to tell him how close he was to 50,000 career punting yards, long snapper Jon Weeks jokingly indicated fatigue at hearing about how good Lechler is. The punter lightly indicated it had more to do with being old. He doesn't care much about punting yards as a statistic, but on Sunday he went over the 50,000-yard mark. Only five other punters have reached that landmark, according to ESPN Stats and Information. More than anything it indicates longevity. Lechler, who is in his 14th season, said he wants to punt for 20 years.

Critical Arizona score: The Cardinals took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter, but it turned into 10 when Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer found Andre Roberts 5 yards beyond his defensive back, Brice McCain. "All out blitz," McCain said. "My eyes were bad. Double move. He beat me." Wade Phillips said it was probably his fault for blitzing then, "but it was a little more desperation at that time, although we came back and still had a chance."

Without Foster, Texans lose a luxury

November, 10, 2013
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PHOENIX -- When Houston Texans running back Arian Foster entered his offseason workouts, coach Gary Kubiak marveled at the shape he was in. He said Foster was in the best shape he'd ever seen him. Teammates agreed.

Six months and three injured body parts later, Foster's season is over. He's going to have back surgery after seeing three specialists on the matter.

When I approached Foster in the locker room last Sunday and asked him if this back injury was the same as the back injury he suffered during training camp, he declined to acknowledge the question.

That training camp back injury came on the heels of a calf injury that caused him to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and Foster insisted they weren't related. When it comes to lower-body injuries, one often leads to another, even if it doesn't seem that way at first.

More than Foster's health, the Texans' propensity to play from behind has been a problem for their running game. The Texans have had a capable backup available in Ben Tate, who is gutting out his contract year through slowly healing cracked ribs.

Still, losing Foster will hurt.

When healthy, he was a boon for the Texans. He scored one of their two rushing touchdowns, not to mention the one that mattered most this season. He rushed for a 1-yard score, then earned the two-point conversion (despite some relatively poor blocking on the play) that helped the Texans tie the Tennessee Titans late in the fourth quarter in an eventual 30-24 overtime win.

He had a stretch of three games in which he averaged 113.67 yards per game. And though his yards-per-carry average was low early, that stretch of games elevated it to 4.5 overall this season.

Most importantly, losing Foster hurts the Texans' depth. While in the past they had two running backs capable of being starters and spelling each other, they now have one, along with two unproven players. That's not to say Dennis Johnson won't fill Tate's old role nicely -- he did so last weekend against the Indianapolis Colts. But having Foster and Tate on the same roster was a rare luxury for the Texans. It might be gone forever.
HOUSTON -- Houston Texans running back Arian Foster will be active for today's game against the Indianapolis Colts. Foster was the only player questionable on their injury report this week.

Not having Foster two weeks ago against the Kansas City Chiefs made things very tough for the Texans. They only had one other running back active and that running back, Ben Tate, broke his ribs.

Tate said all week long that he would play despite the injury. Foster was less forthcoming and dodged the media all week. He was also limited on the injury report all week. Gary Kubiak said he didn't practice on Wednesday.

I would anticipate the split to be similar to what it was early in the year, with Foster testing out his hamstring as the game progresses.

Rookie Dennis Johnson got the call as the Texans' third active running back. Johnson was one of the three signed to the active roster this week. He had a strong training camp and preseason, but a rash of fumbles in the preseason finale bumped Cierre Wood ahead of him.

Double Coverage: Colts at Texans

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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Luck/KeenumGetty ImagesAndrew Luck will be without Reggie Wayne and Case Keenum will be making his second NFL start.
During an unexpectedly poor showing in the first seven games of the season, the Houston Texans played only one AFC South opponent and beat that team.

That's the upside about the Texans' start. The downside for Houston is that during that malaise, the Indianapolis Colts returned to the top of the division and joined the league's elite. The Colts enter this game with a two-game lead over the Tennessee Titans, who are second.

Both teams come off a bye week that followed a game in which they lost an important veteran -- Brian Cushing for the Texans and Reggie Wayne for the Colts. Both teams are now about to enter a stretch in which they play five divisional games. The landscape of the AFC South could change dramatically.

Colts reporter Mike Wells and I take a look at this week's matchup.

So Mike, how big of an impact will losing Wayne have on the Colts' offense?

Wells: I think the Colts will be fine for now without Wayne. They'll still win the AFC South -- it helps having a two-game lead -- because there aren't any teams in the division that can close the gap and the Colts don't have a tough schedule the rest of the season. It's in the playoffs that the Colts will miss Wayne's leadership and playmaking ability. He's been quarterback Andrew Luck's security blanket the past two seasons. Wayne is irreplaceable in the locker room and on the field.

Speaking of impacts, what type of impact do you think quarterback Case Keenum will have on the Texans?

Ganguli: Keenum opened up the Texans' passing game two weeks ago. They threw just one fewer deep pass in that game than they had in the four previous games combined. It's one area where Keenum is especially solid. He's also really impressed Texans teammates and coaches with his confidence, moxie (a word defensive coordinator Wade Phillips used) and poise. I would have excused him being rattled against a fierce Kansas City defense and crowd, but he wasn't. He was able to make plays off schedule. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 271 yards and one touchdown. It has seemed easy for him to step into a leadership role.

What kinds of challenges will the Colts' defense pose for Keenum specifically?

Wells: You can expect linebacker Robert Mathis to be licking his chops with Keenum at quarterback. Mathis leads in the league in sacks with 11.5. He's one of the leaders for Defensive Player of the Year. Safeties Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry, who are interchangeable, will try to confuse the young quarterback by disguising their coverage on him. Vontae Davis and Greg Toler are gambling cornerbacks, so expect them to try to make Keenum pay for every mistake he makes.

Is there one reason in particular that the Texans have struggled this season? Many people thought they would be Super Bowl contenders this season.

Ganguli: There have been a few factors. Turnovers have been a big part of it. The Texans' turnover margin is among the worst in the NFL right now at minus-11. Two weeks ago against the Chiefs was the only game in which the Texans' turnover margin wasn't negative. They hadn't been creating many and had been giving up the ball to an excessive degree. One other key area to examine is the red zone. Offensively and defensively, it hasn't been especially productive for Houston this season.

Wrapping things up here, Luck is a familiar face around Houston, having played football at Stratford High School. He took a beating last time he came to Houston with J.J. Watt notching three sacks as the Texans clinched the division. How has his protection been this year and how has that impacted his performance?

Wells: Improving the offensive line was at the top of the list for the Colts after Luck was sacked 41 times last season. They've been hit with some injuries along the line this season. Starting guard Donald Thomas was lost for the season in the opener with a torn quad and center Samson Satele has dealt with some injuries. Despite these issues, the Colts have done a better job of protecting Luck. He's been sacked only 15 times this season. But the Colts will have their hands full against a Texans defense that has “game-wreckers all over the place,” according to coach Chuck Pagano. I can't let you get out of here without talking about running back Arian Foster. Why is he averaging only 77.4 yards a game this season?

Ganguli: The Texans began the season limiting Foster's carries because he missed training camp while recovering from two injuries. The fact the Texans have found themselves in deep deficits has also hurt Foster's numbers. They just aren't running the ball as much as they did last season when they were playing with leads. He's had two 100-yard games this season and one 98-yard game. He rushed for 141 yards against the St. Louis Rams, which boosted his average. But the Texans' last game significantly depressed it. Foster gained only 11 yards after an early hamstring injury forced him from the game and limited him to just four carries.

Arian Foster, Ben Tate both practice

October, 31, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Still no official word about the status of the Houston Texans' top two running backs, but head coach Gary Kubiak said both practiced Thursday, though backup Ben Tate was limited.

Arian Foster had a set of reps he was scheduled to take and took them all.

Foster suffered a hamstring injury and was unable to finish the Texans' game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Tate suffered broken ribs, but finished the game.

"What Ben attempted to do for the team two weeks ago was incredible," Kubiak said today.

Tate practiced yesterday and Foster did not. Kubiak still plans on watching the two of them through the end of the week before making decisions on who will play.


HOUSTON -- Arian Foster has a T-shirt line with Target. A role in a film. He's featured in commercials for "Madden," Under Armour and Toyota. He's featured in a documentary in which he takes a stand against the current model of college athletics.

And now, per our Darren Rovell, Foster has partnered with a company called Fantex that is paying Foster $10 million for a 20 percent stake in his future income, including contracts, endorsements and other related business revenue and plans to allow fans to buy shares of stock in Foster's marketability.

While Foster insists the proliferation of his off-the-field business interests isn't as dramatic as it seems, he is keeping an eye on the value it can have.

"I think branding is an important part of every athlete, of every human being," Foster told me this week.

He has learned two seemingly opposing lessons about that. While he thinks being honest about his opinions has drawn certain companies, he understands he has to filter his words, because once they're said and printed, they never go away.

"You can’t say everything you think," Foster said. "Because we live in a world where political correctness is kind of the golden rule. You have to say the right things, you have to do the right things. A lot of my core values and what I believe has some political correctness to it, but a lot of them don’t. You don’t ever want to try to take a stance on something without having thought it out, without anything like that."

As his capital has increased in the NFL, he's worked on balancing that.

"When I first went into the league, I said everything politically correct," Foster said. "I’m starting to care less and less about how I’m perceived to those who don’t understand where I’m coming from. I tried to get everybody to like me, but that’s not reality. That’s not realistic. I have to say what I feel."

How does he see his brand? As he tries to craft it, he makes an effort to partner with companies that he says he believes in.

"There’s one called Health Warrior I partner with," Foster said. "They make a product called chia bar, and it’s made out of chia seeds. Chia seeds are a very healthy protein with omega-3. It’s like a snack for kids, for everybody. It’s doing very well.

"I feel like things like childhood obesity is something that can be prevented. If you look at things that athletes endorse, it’s all junk food. We have a part in bettering our circumstances."
If you want a clear delineation between wins and losses for the Houston Texans, you can find it in red-zone efficiency.

In the Texans' first two games, their only two wins this season, their offense entered the red zone seven times and scored touchdowns every single time. Since then the Texans have scored touchdowns on only 2 of 12 red-zone trips.

John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information looked into the breakdown of the plays for me.

He found that of the 53 red-zone plays the Texans have run, 28 have been passes and 25 have been runs. Only 10 of those passes have been thrown into the end zone. That means 35.7 percent of the Texans' red-zone pass attempts have been thrown into the end zone, ranking them 19th in the NFL. Only 18.9 percent of the Texans' red-zone plays overall have been passes into the end zone, ranking them 17th in the NFL.

Here's what happened each week:
  • In Baltimore, the Texans' first red-zone trip began with an illegal-substitution penalty on the Ravens that converted a fourth-and-4 and took the Texans to the Ravens' 18-yard line. Then came a 10-yard Arian Foster run, followed by a run for negative yardage and two incomplete passes. Their next red-zone trip also was aided by a Baltimore penalty. Once inside came a 4-yard run, a 3-yard run and then a pass for negative yardage before the field goal.
  • Against the Seahawks, the Texans' first red-zone trip ended in a Matt Schaub interception. Their second resulted in a touchdown and their third a field goal. That field goal came on a drive that began at Seattle's 19-yard line. Schaub threw four passes and completed one of them. Foster ran twice for a total of 7 yards.
  • The one and only red-zone trip against the 49ers ended in a missed 45-yard field goal. The drive had stalled because of a holding penalty on Owen Daniels. That knocked the Texans to a third-and-11. Then Daniels false-started, and the ensuing third-and-16 was too much for Houston to overcome.
  • Of the Texans' six red-zone trips against the Rams, four came when the Texans were already down by 25. Two ended in T.J. Yates interceptions, one ended in a touchdown and the last ended with the end of the game. The Texans' two first-half red-zone trips ended in field goals. The first stalled with a third-down false-start penalty on right tackle Derek Newton, then a 7-yard pass on third-and-9.

Getting there is the first challenge, but the lack of red-zone productivity explains why the Texans' offensive yards per game ranks seventh in the league, but their points per game rank 26th.
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HOUSTON -- For the past month, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been working with the suburb of Pearland, his homeowners' association and other homeowners in his neighborhood to get approval for a gate to add security to the neighborhood.

If he can't get the gate approved, he'll have to move.

Watt isn't a gated-community type of guy. While he strives for greatness on the field, off it he craves normalcy, like the kind he grew up with in the small Milwaukee suburb of Pewaukee, Wis. And while he enjoys the attention from fans and the love Houston has shown him ever since his pick-six against the Bengals in January 2012, that comes with a loss of privacy.

People follow him home, they wait in his driveway, they knock on his door and ask for autographs. This past offseason, Watt installed cameras around his home to add to an existing security system, just in case.

"I've gotten very close with the Pearland Police Department," Watt said during his news conference Wednesday. "Any time there’s an issue, they’re more than willing to help me out." He said it's usually people looking for autographs or pictures. "Nobody’s trying to harm me in any way or say anything bad. It’s usually just me saying, ‘Hey, man, this is my house, this is my personal space. Not right now.’ It’s all positive stuff, and I guess that means I’m playing all right if people want to come and get a picture or something."

Watt told me later that his tone would be very different if he ever felt legitimately threatened. Or if he had a wife and children.

Matt Schaub does have a wife, and three young daughters. This week, following established protocols for NFL players, he contacted the Texans and the NFL's security department because of concerns about the safety of his home.

The NFL's vice president of security, Jeff Miller, told the NFL Network that on Monday afternoon a vehicle pulled into Schaub's driveway and someone yelled obscenities at him.

On Wednesday, Schaub said "there really wasn't an incident" and added that "to my knowledge" a fan did not yell obscenities at him. He said the phrase "to my knowledge" more than once. He said he called the Texans because he had seen people driving by his home and taking pictures. The Houston Police Department later said in a statement on Twitter that the Schaub family filed a report about two trespassers.

"It’s been an ongoing thing," Schaub said about people driving by and taking photos. "Better safe than sorry. My main focus is to make sure that my family is safe and protect my home."

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/Gregory BullJ.J. Watt says people follow him home to ask for autographs. "I've gotten very close with the Pearland Police Department," he says.
This kind of uninvited interaction doesn't happen to most Texans players. Running back Arian Foster, linebacker Brian Cushing and tight end Owen Daniels all said they never had Texans fans arrive at their homes.

"Hell no," said Foster, who is married with a baby son and young daughter.

What would he do if one did?

"Texas, man," Foster said, then he paused. "Well within my rights."

"I don't think that guy would be around much longer," said Cushing, who is married with a son who is almost 1 year old.

"If people actually showed up to someone’s house, that’s bush league and childish and it’s pathetic, honestly," Daniels said. "We’re playing a game. It’s our jobs. If that bothers somebody that much -- you don’t hear about that anywhere else in the entire league. You never heard about that anywhere except for here. I heard a story about a player we used to have that had something similar happen at his house."

Daniels, who got married this offseason, said that if someone tried that at his home, the situation might have been different.

"The Schaubs are a very, very nice family," Daniels said. "Everyone’s different. Everyone handles things a different way. Maybe it would be a different story if they showed up at someone else’s house."

He added: "That’s not a challenge or anything."

Privacy can erode for these men with such public jobs. And while most fans can identify the boundary between passion for one's team and invading someone's personal space, Schaub's and Watt's experiences show not all can.

This goes beyond vile Twitter comments and cheering for injuries -- things done by people who seem to forget professional athletes are also human beings. This takes away their ability to get away from work, something fundamentally necessary for most people to function.

"It’s the world we live in," Schaub said. "There are passionate fans out there, for better or worse. I understand that. Our team understands that. You hate for it to come to that because we’re better than that as a society and a community but it’s the nature of what we do. The only thing that can correct that is going out and beating the St. Louis Rams this week."

A football game, or even more broadly, a person's job performance, shouldn't determine how safe their family feels. But this week, that's what happened.

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