For NFL franchises, Super Bowl windows don't often stay open for long.
For the Houston Texans, the window is open right now.
One of the strongest teams in the league when healthy, Houston is primed to make the playoffs for the third straight season. However, without a wealth of depth at many key positions, losing a key player down the stretch run could prove to be a death blow.
All-Pro running back Arian Foster is one of those players, and he was finally activated from the PUP list on Wednesday, as noted by ESPN's Adam Schefter. According to the team's official Twitter account, he finally practiced with the team after nursing a calf injury for the past month:
For Texans fans, this is welcome news.
When he's healthy, the former undrafted free agent is undeniably one of the league's premier running backs.
Since taking over as the team's full-time starter in 2010, Foster has been counted on to carry the Texans offense, as the team struggled to find production outside of Andre Johnson at the wide receiver position.
In those three seasons (45 games), the fantasy football superstar has piled up monster statistics: 4,264 yards on the ground with 41 touchdowns and 1,438 yards through the air with six touchdowns.
Broken down per game, Foster averaged 126.7 yards and 1.04 touchdowns every time he set foot on the gridiron. Even better than that is Foster's track record in playoff games, as he's averaged 165.5 combined yards and 1.5 touchdowns in four postseason appearances.
Last season, the running back was playing while banged up for part of the season, and he's already been dealing with injuries this season before the real action has even begun.
Though he's only 26 years old, Foster's body is in danger of breaking down, thanks to the ungodly number of carries he's endured the past few seasons (956).
Foster rushed for 15 touchdowns last season, and there's no doubt he's still an effective player.
However, it was clear he wasn't as explosive in the open field, and the numbers back this notion up. In each of the past three seasons, Foster's per-carry average has dropped.
The Texans have burdened him to the point of near-exhaustion.
If Houston continues running him as often as it has the past three seasons, Foster is in dire danger of breaking down midseason.
With a perfectly capable backup in Ben Tate, there's no excuse not to preserve Foster for the stretch run. The San Francisco 49ers have protected Frank Gore the past couple of seasons by cutting his carries early in the season, and Houston would be smart to do the same.
Obviously, Matt Schaub and the team's passing attack must come through in order for Houston to win a championship this season. That said, it'll certainly be easier to run an efficient, balanced offense with Foster in the lineup than without him.
Head coach Gary Kubiak must ensure Foster's carries are reduced this season. He's going to need his star running back to be 100-percent healthy in January if his team has any chance of winning a championship this year.
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