The all-around greatness of Arian Foster

It's him.

In 2010, watching the first OTA of the off-season, I wrote those words in my notebook about halfway through the practice.

Leading up to that day, nearly every discussion that I had with callers or with media members dealt with the situation at running back. Steve Slaton had been a star as a rookie in 2008 but injuries cut short his 2009 season and no one knew what to expect in 2010. The situation was such that the Texans spent a 2nd round pick on Auburn star Ben Tate.

Then, there was a mercurial talent that started for four years at Tennessee but went undrafted in 2009.

It was the first time many glanced past, over, around and through Arian Foster.

He got an opportunity in 2009 after the Slaton-Chris Brown duo ran its course. After not being active until late November that season, Foster finally got the starting call in the final two games of his rookie season. He churned out 216 yards on 39 carries, caught three passes for 26 yards and piled up three touchdowns in two wins over Miami and New England.

Yet, it wasn't enough or so it seemed for most Texans fans and analysts.

"They have to draft a RB! They need a star!" or some FCC acceptable version of that. Over and over.

So, heading into those 2010 OTAs, many had eyes on the running back situation. Many surmised that Tate would win the job early in training camp and this was the beginning of the coronation.

Halfway through that first workout, I just wrote the words…

"'s him."

Later that day during my show, as I'm wont to do, I said that the running back conversation was over. The Texans had the guy all along. It's Foster. He was at a different level than any other ball carrier on the field and it wasn't close.

The rest, well, you know what happened next.

The Colts game.
Leading rusher in the NFL.
Pro Bowls.

And on and on.

But, along the way, his all-around greatness was again questioned. Not so much in Houston or by Texans fans but by those that play or cover this game. My true inspiration for this piece came when watching one of my favorite shows the NFL's Top 100 players, Foster's name popped up as the 80th ranked player in the NFL, by the players. You do the math, 79 players are better?

Uh, no.

I was incredulous. When it comes to multi-use running backs in this league, there's not a guy I'd swap for him. There are nine running backs ahead of Foster on this list.

Pete Prisco from CBS Sports put together his Top 100 players as well. He didn't even put Foster on his century list. Seven running backs made the list. 23 was not one of them.

From a complete player perspective, Foster is on a different level. Complete skill set. The more you can do. Running back as offensive weapon. Run. Receive. Block (and even pass). He can do it all and it's maddening more people don't get it so let me see if I can enlighten the masses.

I went back to the Philadelphia game as my original thought was to show how he exploited the Eagles defense in the passing game. Then, I started going back through the game and realized that it was the perfect vehicle to show how he actually impacts the offense in every way possible.

It wasn't one of Foster's best statistical afternoons but that sort of proves the point. He was the focus of the Eagles defense all day and still had major impact.

Pass ProtectionOn the Texans first drive of the game, it was 2nd and 11, a definite passing down. Foster was aligned as the team's lone running back as the Texans had three receivers and one TE in the game (11 personnel)

Foster's responsibility in the passing game wasn't alway clear at the snap, but as the play evolved it was clear that his responsibility was Eagles blitzing LB Mychal Kendricks. As the ball is snapped, you can see OLB No. 98 Connor Barwin bailing at the snap and Kendricks on his way through the A gap.

Based on the initial line call, the guard-center-guard trio are covered with defenders while OLB Trent Cole rushed from the defense's right which drew the attention of LT Duane Brown. It's clear now that Foster is one-on-one with Kendricks.

There aren't many RBs in the league that would, and then effectively, do what Foster did next.

Foster took Kendricks on head up. He didn't get knocked back into the QB. He didn't "ole!" the block. He squared up Kendricks and then slid him into space away from the QB's arm which opened up a huge passing lane for Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The result?

Easy pitch and catch to a wide open Damaris Johnson for a 15 yard gain and a first down. How often have you seen WR open, sometimes WIDE open, but the QB can't get the pass off because he's wearing a blitzer like a cheap suit? Happens all the time. Not here.

Later in the first half, Foster was aligned in the backfield as Fitzpatrick was in the shotgun.

The focus was Barwin on this play. Admittedly, he got put in a rough situation by the secondary that appeared to blow the coverage. Yet, Barwin's athleticism allowed him to nearly shut down the play. He didn't because Foster was the RB on the field.

The Eagles appeared to have this covered well at the outset. There was one Texans WR to the right side of the field. He ran a deep dig to draw the attention of the safety, while Foster ran his route to the flat.

But, the cornerback bit and tracked the receiver into the middle of the field. Not sure why, but he did.

As Foster neared the sideline, he turned the flat route into an out-and-up down the Eagles sideline behind Barwin.

Foster was even with Barwin as the Texan turned his route up the field. It was at this exact moment that Fitzpatrick let fly. There was a ton of room up the right sideline and Fitzpatrick threw into space with hope that his receiver, errr, running back could make a play.

Even as Barwin made a great effort diving to try to knock down the pass, Foster made a fingertip catch that most receivers in the building that day weren't making.

Then, it was a race to the end zone. Foster won and scored a TD right before the half that tied the game at 14.

This is where we want or expect all running backs to excel. But, the mark of a true star at running back is generating yardage when there's nothing there. Early in the second half, Foster ripped off a few big runs to start the drive. On the third play of the half, the Texans aligned 2x2 in 10 personnel (1 RB, no TE).

The Eagles are in nickel cover one (man free). Essentially, this put six Eagles in the box against five blockers. The Texans, for the third play in a row, ran an outside zone to the left.

I'll switch over to the end zone view at this point to show you better how Foster picked up five yards when he should've gotten none.

At the start of the play, ILB DeMeco Ryans had a free run to Foster and Barwin had cut-back responsibility on the backside. Nowhere to run, huh? OLB Trent Cole fought hard to keep his outside contain v. Duane Brown, so Foster really had no lane at all.

Complicating the picture was the fact that the Eagles NT fought through initial contact and slid into the hole. Ryans was still clean. Now, No. 91 Fletcher Cox was in pursuit and in good position too. Foster was hidden by the center/NT mash up but his options were definitely limited, nearly dead.

Foster pushed the hole as much as he could but it wasn't there so he did what he's done so often in his career - he tried to cut it up. He doesn't really cut runs back as much as he cuts them up, back behind the center. The problem there was Cox. Derek Newton was in the way but was far from locked up on Cox. Barwin closed down the cutback lane. This play was dead.

Then it wasn't...

Foster pushed back to the middle to freeze Barwin but it also got Cox to jump back to the left. That subtle move allowed Newton to slide inside and get just enough of Cox. It opened a hole, finally, back inside. Foster planted his right foot and burst upfield. He created the space.

He found the seam and burst forward for a six yard gain to set up 2nd and 4. The percentage difference in 2nd and 10 and 2nd and 4 is immense. Foster opened up the rest of the playbook with his instincts, patience and burst.

There are a handful of running backs that could've made something of that zone run. There are a few running backs that could've made that catch. There are very few that could've stopped a blitzing linebacker. There's one that DID it all. Arian Foster.

It's still him.

Check out photos of Arian Foster's touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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