BEREA: The Browns will encounter the third top-10 running back in their past four games when they visit Arian Foster and the Houston Texans today at Reliant Stadium.
“I feel like we have this conversation every week,” Browns strongside linebacker Scott Fujita said. “Every week we have a new beast at the running back position.”
On Oct. 16, the Browns fell to Darren McFadden, who’s ranked eighth in the NFL with 614 rushing yards, and the Oakland Raiders. Last week, they lost to Frank Gore, who’s ranked fifth with 675 yards on the ground, and the San Francisco 49ers. Now they’ll have their hands full with Foster, who’s ranked ninth with 532 rushing yards.
Foster certainly qualifies as a monster in Fujita’s eyes, but the Texans’ offensive line and blocking scheme makes him even more effective. Foster was named the AFC offensive player of the month after compiling 499 rushing yards and 310 receiving yards to go along with five touchdowns in five games during October.
“Physically, he’s obviously very talented,” Fujita said. “But this offense also I think can really make running backs special. The zone-blocking scheme is really challenging for defensive linemen and linebackers to face. I mean you’ve gotta guy who’s so quick, can get to the edge quickly, but also can stick his foot in the ground and make that one cut. It’s really, really tough to defend.”
Of course, Foster poses an even more serious threat when he’s healthy. Foster missed most of training camp and 2› games in September because of an injured hamstring, but he said he’s back to full strength now.
“My hamstring is fine,” Foster said. “It’s just when you miss training camp, it’s hard to get in the full flow of the game of football. I think I’m just starting to hit my stride where I’m in game mode.”
In the past two games, Foster has posted rushing performances of 115 and 112 yards. He needs to run for 95 yards to reach 2,500 in his career, and he needs one rushing touchdown to set the franchise record. This season, he has 135 carries for 532 yards (3.9 average) and four touchdowns.
Foster is also extremely dangerous as a receiver. He has 22 catches for 317 yards and a touchdown this season. Last year, he became the third running back in NFL history to have at least 1,600 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in a season — LaDainian Tomlinson and Priest Holmes were the others.
“He’s very smooth, very big and powerful,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “He appears to have outstanding vision. For those one-cut moves, he generally makes the right decision and gets through the line of scrimmage when it’s undecided. He’s very, very good and he’s got all those things. On top of it he’s a good receiver, very good hands. I think he does an outstanding job in protection too, their protection schemes. He’s an all-around player, deserving of the Pro Bowl and the things he’s attained in his young career.”
Foster, 25, is a great success story, too. In 2009, the Texans signed him as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee. They later cut him, signed him to their practice squad and eventually to their active roster in November. He then ran for 1,616 yards and became the league’s rushing champion with a breakout 2010 season.
“The deeper I think he gets in the game, the better he gets,” said running back Chris Ogbonnaya, whom the Browns recently signed off the Texans’ practice squad. “He’s just a phenomenal player, one that came through the practice-squad ranks and you never would have known that he would have turned into what he is today. We came out the same year and became pretty good friends. He’s just a great player.”
The Browns have the league’s fifth-ranked defense. Jauron’s men are ranked second against the pass (171.9 yards per game) but only 26th against the run (127.3 yards per game).
“I think that they’re one of the better defenses in our league,” Foster said. “They’re big. They’re physical. They love to hit. Even their corners, they’ll come up and hit you. It’s gonna be one of those physical games, and we’ve been a part of those physical games for about four weeks in a row now, so it’s gonna be a tough task.”
So who will have the edge in this matchup?
“They are tough guys,” Foster said. “This is a league full of tough guys, and we have tough guys, too. So it’s just who’s going to be the tougher of the tough guys.”