Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips swears he has seen Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden somewhere in the past.
That rare combination of power, speed, grace and even the high running style has the familiar resemblance of NFL greatness.
“He looks a lot like Eric Dickerson did, I think,” said Phillips, referencing the former Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts great. “He’s that kind of a runner. He’s got quick feet and that tremendous burst. But he’s real powerful.”
McFadden, the Raiders fourth-year back, seems to embody it all. And now the NFL’s leading rusher becomes the Texans problem this week with the Raiders set to come into Reliant Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Easily, this will be the Texans biggest run challenge of the season. The Texans have certainly been improved this season in Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, but if there has been a concern it is consistently stopping the run.
“This is football. This is old school,” said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. “They’re going to run the ball and we need to stop it. It’s one of those where you almost know what they’re going to do and it’s your job to stop it.”
That is the challenge facing the Texans as they prepare for one of the most committed running team in the league this season. The Raiders will pound you with McFadden first and then bring Michael Bush in for even more punishment.
“No doubt, they can control the game on you,” said Texans coach Gary Kubiak. “They can not only run the ball well, but they make big plays running the ball, so that’s what scares the heck out of you.”
It starts up front with the Raiders, but McFadden is quickly proving to be a star in the making as he is as adept at running between the tackles as he is taking it outside.
He’s also powerful enough to pick up the tough yards, while he has the burst and speed to take it to the house from long distance, too.
McFadden’s 468 rushing yards leads the NFL through four games, while his single-game rushing totals of 150 in the season-opener against Denver and 171 yards against the New York Jets two weeks ago are the two top rushing performances of the season so far.
But McFadden’s effectiveness isn’t defined by numbers alone.
His vision and cutback ability puts him in the same elite category as Texans running back Arian Foster, but that lethal stiff-arm in the open field that stops defenders in their tracks could put him in an exclusive club in the NFL right now.
“Darren McFadden’s definitely a great running back,” said cornerback Kareem Jackson. “He’s fast, he’s big, he’s physical. He’s known for that stiff arm, so any time we get in the open field with him, got to try to do everything you can to get him on the ground.”
But the key will be stopping him around the line of scrimmage by playing gap sound football, which will prevent McFadden from getting to the secondary where the smaller defends have a hard time getting him down. The New England Patriots did a decent job of minimizing the big runs by McFadden last week, holding him to just 75 yards on 14 carries.
The Texans would fine with a similar result Sunday.