Texans Must Lean on Ben Tate in 2013 to Save Arian Foster for Playoff Run
Foster is undoubtedly one of the NFL's premier running backs, and as such, the Texans have used him extensively the past three seasons.
Unfortunately, Foster's production has waned in each of the past seasons—both as a runner and as a receiver.
Houston has relied too heavily on its superstar back to carry the load. Since becoming the team's unquestioned starter in 2010, Foster has carried the ball 956 times in 45 games—an average of 21.24 carries per game.
Last season marked an even greater reliance on Foster to tote the rock, as he carried the ball 351 times, playing through a nagging hamstring injury for part of the season.
Men aren't created to take as much of a beating as Foster has taken the past three years, and the Texans can't afford to continue putting him in harm's way as often as they have in the past.
There's no reason not to feature Tate more this year than the team did last year, when he received only 65 carries. When Foster went down in 2011 for a few games, Tate stepped in and carried the ball 175 times for 942 yards and four touchdowns.
For his career, the gritty back from Auburn has averaged 5.1 yards per carry and has also shown himself to be a skilled receiver out of the backfield with 24 catches in his first two seasons.
At 5'11" and 214 pounds, Tate is a powerful man who fits the team's zone-blocking scheme to perfection as a one-cut-and-go running back. Even better, once he's through the hole, Tate's 4.43-second 40-yard-dash speed gives him the ability to score from anywhere on the field.
Last season, Houston's top three running backs carried the ball 479 times, which averages out to 29.93 carries per game—of which Foster carried the ball 21.94 times per game.
Justin Forsett was counted on just as often as Tate last year, and the two of them averaged four carries per game apiece.
Tate is the team's No. 2 running back this season, and head coach Gary Kubiak announced he'd be playing as the starter in the team's preseason game in Week 3 against the Saints Sunday, as noted by Matt Musil of KHOU-TV:
During the regular season, the Texans should give Tate at least 33 percent of the total carries every week, with Foster receiving the majority.
How many carries should Tate receive per game?
Assuming the Texans run the ball as often this year as they did in 2012, Tate would essentially carry the ball 10 times per game, with Foster averaging around 18 and a third back/receiver getting one or two a game.
Four fewer carries per game may not seem like a big difference, but throughout the course of a 16-game season, it makes a huge difference in regard to preserving health long term.
In his career, Foster has proven to be a tremendous postseason performer.
In four games, the former undrafted free agent has averaged 165.5 combined yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game.
However, Foster's production as a runner waned in the team's second playoff game last year against the New England Patriots. He rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries, which isn't bad, but toss out his long run of 28 yards, and Foster averaged 2.95 yards per carry.
He was tired, and for good reason.
Including the team's two playoff games, Foster toted the rock 405 times last season.
Keeping Foster fresh and healthy this season should be one of the biggest priorities for the Texans. When he's fresh, nobody's better at running between the tackles and wearing down opposing defenses.
Tate is more than capable of producing at a high level, and Houston needs to take advantage of the fact that it has two excellent running backs—especially during the regular season.
Once the playoffs roll around, then by all means run Foster until he falls over from exhaustion. Until then, however, the Texans will be better off running a two-back offense.
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