However, it's Plans C, D, E and F that should have head coach Gary Kubiak worried, and rightfully so. Without Foster available, the Texans would have a quartet of inexperienced backups behind Tate at running back.
Recent developments have put Foster's availability for the regular-season opener in jeopardy.
According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Foster received injections in his back as recently as the first week of the preseason. The back pain has since traveled to his legs, which could possibly keep him out for the start of the regular season.
If I'm Kubiak and Arian Foster has a back injury that's requiring injections and feeling pain in legs, I'm worried about him for opener.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 18, 2013
The fifth-year running back hasn't practiced since the first day of OTAs in May, when he hurt his calf.
Although the Texans were originally hopeful Foster would be ready to practice sometime this week, Kubiak said his rehab process is "going to take some time for him to get through." No specific timetable has been set, but Tate will now start his third straight preseason game when Houston takes on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
The Texans could certainly survive without Foster for an early stretch this season, thanks in large part to the quality of Tate as the top backup.
After missing his entire rookie season with a broken ankle, Tate has rattled off a two-year stretch behind Foster that has no equal in terms of No. 2 running backs.
Since 2011, Tate has rushed 240 times for 1,221 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. No other running back with fewer than five starts during that time period has provided anything close, per Pro Football Reference:
Source: Pro Football Reference
In his two NFL starts, which both came in 2011, Tate rushed for 179 yards (89.5 per game), and the Texans averaged 27.5 points. Overall, he rushed for 942 yards, or more than 60 a game, during the 2011 season before totaling only 279 in a reduced role last year.
Advanced stats also point to the Texans being fine with Tate manning the starting job.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Tate was third among running backs in average yards after contact (3.34) in 2011. He was also 10th in "Elusive Rating," which tracks how effective a runner is using factors such as yards after contact and missed tackles forced.
|RB||Team||Att + Rec||Yrd/Contact Avg||Missed Tackles|
Source: Pro Football Focus
While his yards after contact dropped to 2.64 in 2012, he still provided more than Foster, who finished at 2.18.
While the Texans would obviously prefer to have both Foster and Tate healthy and available, past results indicate that the offense wouldn't take much of a step back if Tate had to be the primary ball-carrier for a few weeks to start the season. In fact, there's probably no other running back situation in the NFL that could see an elite running back go down but have minimal drop-off with the backup starting.
However, the Texans would certainly be skating on thin ice behind Tate.
The rest of the depth chart currently consists of Deji Karim, a fourth-year back who received zero carries with the Indianapolis Colts last season, and three undrafted free agents in Dennis Johnson, Cierre Wood and Ray Graham.
Kubiak expressed worry over the depth of the position in the event Foster has to miss time.
“We’ve got one back (Tate) with NFL experience on our team other than Deji,” Kubiak said, via McClain. “When you look at that big picture, boy, running back is concerning to you.”
Karim currently leads the Texans in rushing yards this preseason with 92 on 15 carries. Wood has 79 on 15 carries, while Johnson has turned 11 carries into just 19 yards. Graham might be having the most impressive preseason with six carries for 32 yards and a touchdown.
The next two preseason games will likely have a big say in who will have the chance to back up Foster or Tate in the season opener. Regardless, if Foster can't go, the Texans would be just one injury to Tate away from their running back position taking a nosedive, at least in terms of experience.
Of course, this all becomes a moot point if the problems hampering Foster fade and the one-two punch at the top of the depth chart is restored.
The Texans possess the uncommon luxury of having two starting-quality running backs on their roster. Tate represents one of the game's best backup plans, which will ease the sting of any looming absence from Foster to start the 2013 season.
The depth behind the top two is concerning, but Houston's Plan B at running back is on par with its Plan A.