HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – It’s amazing the difference a week can make in the NFL.
Just seven days ago there was real concern about whether or not the Texans running game with two-time Pro Bowl Arian Foster and Ben Tate was somehow broken. Foster didn’t look as explosive due to a sore knee and Tate was way too inconsistent.
But now on the heels of an outstanding combined effort against Jacksonville on Sunday there doesn’t seem to be enough praise to go around.
“A lot of teams in this league have a 1-2 punch now. Obviously, Houston is one of them,” said Denver Broncos head coach John Fox, whose defense will be charged with slowing the duo on Sunday in Denver. “They are both outstanding players. They have an outstanding scheme and they keep them fresh doing it.”
The Texans certainly used what is widely considered the best 1-2 punch in the NFL to perfection against Jacksonville on Sunday. Foster and Tate combined to help the offense run for 216 yards and 4.5 yards per carry to go along with three rushing touchdowns.
That was much different than a week earlier when the Texans were dominated at the line scrimmage in the season-opening win against Miami and neither Foster or Tate could explode through with any consistency. With the exception of the second quarter when the Texans scored off four Dolphins turnovers two of which Foster ran in, the rushing offense seemed stuck in neutral. The Texans rushed for 83 yards and averaged an anemic 2.4 yards per carry in the first week.
They will face their stiffest test so far on Sunday when they come up against a Denver defense that has allowed just 142 total yards in first two games. But if there is a backfield that is up for the challenge it seems Foster and Tate are.
“The best duo in the league, in my opinion. I’m a bit biased,” said Texans left tackle Duane Brown. “Both are extremely talented and both run extremely hard and when Arian needs a breather, you put Tate back in there and you’re not missing a beat.”
That was certainly the case last week. Tate, a third-year player out of Auburn, looked as explosive as he has ever in spelling Foster. He rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry in the 27-7 win over Jacksonville.
“I feel like he has always had ability and been able to make plays, it’s just about getting opportunities in this league,” Foster said about Tate. “The more plays you make the more opportunities you get.”
“He has grown up a great deal,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Tate after Thursday’s practice. “He practices tremendous, he practices very hard and he pushes Arian.
“The biggest difference with Ben is over a three-year period of time he has gone from a two-down player to a three-down player. Ben understands protection and he can pass protect so that is great for his future.”
Tate’s continued growth has only made the Texans offense that much potent because of the value he adds to the running game. Instead of being only a change of pace back from Foster, Tate has become more like his counterpart, especially when it comes to pass protecting.
Their ability to keep Matt Schaub protected will be huge Sunday facing Bronco’s defensive coordinator and ex- Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio’s 4-3 scheme and the relentless rush of defensive end Elvis Dumervil and linebacker and former Texas A&M Aggie Von Miller.
Both Tate and Foster will have to continue to be interchangeable in all facets for the offense to remain effective Sunday. So far there seems to be almost nothing one guys does better than the other. It’s just about who has the opportunity at that moment.
“When you have a great guy in there capable of making big plays and both can make big plays and both have good hands,” Kubiak said. “And you don’t have to look up on third down when you might get a blitz or some pressure and have to worry about who is in the game because they both can protect.”
That has become a nice problem to have as Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison have tried to figure out a rotation for the two that doesn’t hinder flow but enhances the production of both running backs.
Foster certainly looked sharper later in the game against the Jaguars with Tate taking on a slightly bigger role. Foster ran the ball 28 times for 110 yards and a touchdown.
During the opening week, Foster picked up just 79 yards on 26 carries, while Tate ran for just six yards on five carries against the Dolphins.
“We try to rotate them every two or three just depends on how it’s rolling,” said Dennison, who along with Kubiak decides which back should be in when. “Certainly if someone is doing quite well, we’ll try to leave them out there for a while. There is a little bit of input from everybody.”
Last season Foster went over 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight year and Tate approached 1,000 rushing yards in his first real NFL season (he missed all of his rookie campaign due to injury).
It seems reasonable that the two could both be 1,000-yard rushers this season, which is a rarity in the NFL. But even more practical, it means if one goes down the offense should be in good hands with the other carrying the load.
“It’s great to have two backs that can go out and run the ball,” said Texans receiver Andre Johnson. “When one goes out, you don’t miss a beat.”