Rams will have to stretch to stop Texans ..
Rams will have to stretch to stop Texans
By Jim Thomas
The Rams know exactly what’s coming from the Houston running game Sunday in Reliant Stadium. Now, can they stop it? Or at least slow it down?
It’s not just the backfield talent in three-time Pro Bowler Arian Foster and super sub Ben Tate. It’s the scheme run by Texans coach Gary Kubiak.
“It’s different than most,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “It’s his own scheme. Front side is the back side, and then back side is the front side. Got to keep everybody honest and everybody on their feet.”
The Texans love the stretch play, employing a quick offensive line featuring Pro Bowlers Duane Brown at left tackle, Wade Smith at left guard and Chris Myers at center. On the stretch play, the offensive linemen basically run parallel to the line of scrimmage. The running back picks a hole, and frequently cuts back against the grain while the offensive linemen chop down the pursuit by going at the legs with cut blocks.
Sound familiar? It’s similar to what happened in the debacle in Dallas, the Rams’ 31-7 loss to the Cowboys. DeMarco Murray ran for 175 yards and a touchdown in that game, with many of the yards coming on stretch plays and cutback runs. No disrespect to Murray, but Foster is a much more accomplished back. And his sidekick, Tate, isn’t exactly chopped liver.
“It’s a huge challenge, playing this offense and this offensive line,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “I tried to tell the guys that haven’t played the Texans before, it’s impossible to simulate in practice how fast they’re going to climb to the second level, and how good they are at cutting backside.”
In other words, Houston’s offensive linemen can get to the second level of the defense — the linebackers — very quickly. And they’re very effective at cut-blocking the pursuit, be it a defensive lineman or linebacker.
“It creates cutback lanes for Foster,” Laurinaitis said. “You’ve got to be patient. You know they’re gonna get runs of 7, 8 yards in there every once in a while. But you’ve got to stop the 30, the 20-something (plays).”
Hence, Fisher’s “back side, front side” remarks. The Texans are looking to do most of their damage on the back side of the play with the cutback runs. The Rams’ front seven has to be assignment sound, and as Fisher mentioned, try to keep their feet when Myers and Co. start going after legs with cut blocks.
“We have to be disciplined in all aspects of our game,” defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “We have to make sure we’re getting off the cut blocks on the back side, we’re leveraging our blocks on the front side, and we’re all staying in our gaps.”
Foster, who entered the NFL in 2009 as an undrafted free agent, operates very well in the scheme and has been as productive as any back not named Adrian Peterson since becoming a full-time starter in 2010. Since the start of the 2010 season, Foster is second to Peterson in rushing yards per game, at 93.1 yards to Peterson’s 101.8.
But Foster has more touchdowns from scrimmage than Peterson (49 to 45) over that span. And throw in Foster’s skills as a pass-catcher, and he surpasses Peterson as the league leader in yards from scrimmage during that period with an average of 124.4 a game to Peterson’s 117.8.
“It’s hard to imagine that right now Foster’s longest carry is 17 yards,” Fisher said.
Even so, Foster ranks second in the AFC and sixth in the NFL in rushing yards with 390. Even though the Houston offense has been struggling mightily of late, Foster ran for a season-high 102 yards vs. Seattle and had 98 yards on 21 carries last week vs. San Francisco.
“He’s got some big plays in the passing game,” Fisher added. “And then Tate’s got a 60-yard (run). I’m quite sure that they’re going to get back to basics — back to run, back to play-action, playing good defense.”
When it comes to running the football, and running those stretch plays, it would be foolish for the Texans to do anything else. With the way quarterback Matt Schaub has been struggling, with a league record four interceptions returned for TDs over the past four games, the Texans would like to make it as easy on him as possible Sunday.
There’s nothing easier for a quarterback than handing it off. Obviously, the Texans have noticed how the Rams got gashed by Murray in Dallas and by Frank Gore (153 yards) of San Francisco in Games 3 and 4.
“They’re gonna test you,” Laurinaitis said. “Anything that’s hurt us through the season, stretch plays, all that stuff against Dallas ... to see if you’ve fixed it.”
The Rams are tied for 27th in run defense — with Houston (and the New York Giants) — and are yielding 4.5 yards a carry. Although the Rams made some strides on run defense against the Jaguars, they’re a way from respectability.
Facing Foster and Tate isn’t exactly a get-well card.
“They’re two different kind of runners,” Laurinaitis said. “Arian’s extremely shifty and carries the ball extremely loose. We’re gonna try to get it out. But Tate likes to test your edges a little bit, kind of bring it all the way around.”
Despite Foster’s “loose” ball security, it’s Tate who has fumbled in each of the past two games for the Texans.
Re: Rams will have to stretch to stop Texans ..
I really think that Ray Ray could have a huge day against the Texan stretch plays--it would be a skillful use of run blitzes. The Texans have no trust in Schaub to win the game, just enough to keep him from losing it and that is where the Rams best chance is--stop the run and put the ball back into Schaub's hands