Patric Schneider/Associated Press
The reason why I expect the Texans' running game to be improved is about more than just Arian Foster; it's due to nearly the entire offense. From the additions on the offensive line, at tight end, at fullback and even on the coaching staff, they're all factors.
Obviously the offense under Gary Kubiak ran the ball extremely well, but it was a bit one-dimensional with the zone scheme, whereas, in the past, O'Brien has mixed in elements of multiple styles of running attacks to make better use of his roster and keep opponents on their toes.
For the purposes of this article, though, let's focus on the improvements to the roster and how they will impact the running game this season.
The Texans' run game was at its peak in 2010 when Foster led the league in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Soon after that season ended, the Texans lost their Pro Bowl fullback, and, then, later, after the 2011 season, they lost a good blocking tight end and two solid run-blockers on the offensive line.
Losing Vonta Leach, Joel Dreessen, Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston has impacted the Texans' success and Foster negatively over the last couple of seasons; his yards-per-game average has dropped each year since 2010.
After finishing in the top 10 for rushing yards and touchdowns as a team in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the losses caught up to the Texans in 2013 when they finished 20th and 28th, respectively, in those two categories.
Of course there were other factors that caused the drop-off other than just personnel, but not having all the players in place was easily the biggest reason for the decline.
I'm not sure if it was Rick Smith's plan all along this offseason, but, regardless, the talent of the blockers around the backs has improved greatly.
With the addition of Jay Prosch, Xavier Su'a-Filo and C.J. Fiedorowicz, the Texans added three guys who excel as run-blockers, and they have finally found replacements for the pieces they lost in 2010 and 2011. Brandon Brooks' continued development also deserves some mention; some believe he is quickly becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Foster and company should have some giant holes to run through this season.
On top adding talented blockers, Foster's health and adding two new backs should also improve the quality of the running game.
In particular, I'm excited about the rookie sixth-round pick Alfred Blue from LSU who has been compared favorably to Foster. Those are difficult shoes to fill, but his size, vision and ability as a receiver should be enough to get fans excited.
With what the Texans have in a quarterback, they're likely to lean heavily on the run game to put the offense in more manageable third-down situations and to also set up the play-action pass. Lucky for Ryan Fitzpatrick and O'Brien, the running game is well-equipped to carry the load this season.