Blogging The Boys: Tell us about Arian Foster. What kind of runner is he? How do the Texans utilize him in the offense?
Battle Red Blog: The NFL's leading rusher (sorry...I've never gotten to type that and wanted to know how it felt...it did not disappoint) appears to be an ideal fit for Houston's zone-blocking scheme. In other words, he's a one-cut-and-go runner with great vision. He also seems to be a capable receiver, and I'd expect (read: hope) to see him featured quite a bit on screens this weekend, both because he's got the skills to make something happen and to make Rashad Butler's job a bit easier against DeMarcus Ware.
BTB: There is one thing the Cowboys have done well this year, and that's pass the ball. The Texans pass defense hasn't been very good. What are the issues there, and do you think this game will be a shoot-out?
BRB: Texans fans could probably give Tolstoy a run for his money describing the issues with the secondary. In the interest of brevity, I'll summarize as best I can. The Houston secondary is very young--the starting CBs are a rookie (Kareem Jackson) and a second-year player (Glover Quin), and the nickel corner is also a second-year guy (Brice McCain). At safety, Bernard Pollard is incredible in run support and vulnerable in coverage, while Eugene Wilson, who was supposed to be a stabilizing force in coverage, has not looked good at all. Additionally, the Texans run quite a bit of zone (dubbed the "red carpet zone" by BRBers), and there will most certainly be plays to be made for Romo & Co. The Texans do not blitz very much, so it's imperative that the front four get pressure on Romo; if they can't get in Romo's kitchen, he should have a field day picking apart the secondary. A shootout is totally possible and perhaps probable, depending on the performance of the Houston defensive line.
BTB: How much will the absence of left tackle Duane Brown hurt the Texans offense? Give us a scouting report on replacement Rashad Butler. How much help will he need to deal with DeMarcus Ware?
BRB: Rashad Butler has never started a game in the NFL, and he's picking a helluva time to debut in that role. Duane Brown has his fans and his detractors, but I think it's pretty well agreed that he is a big asset to the rushing attack. The shift from Brown to Butler is getting a lot of attention as it applies to the passing game (as it should, with Ware being an animal and all), but the effect on the run game could be even more profound. As I mentioned above, many of us are hoping the Texans utilize some screens to slow Ware down, and it's very likely that you see Butler get some help via chips on Ware. The Texans can't worry too much about Ware, however, if it's at the expense of paying attention to Jay Ratliff. Ratliff, going against Chris Myers, is the matchup that still terrifies me the most. At least if Ware is beating Butler, Schaub might be able to step up in the pocket. If Ratliff's mauling the interior of the Texans' line, that's not an option.
BTB: In the pre-season game, I noted how the Texans front-seven were simply throwing the Cowboys offensive line around. I also see how tough they are against the run. Talk about the front seven on defense and how they've played so far.
BRB: The front four, on balance, has been very, very good thus far. Mario Williams in particular has been amazing; he got after Peyton Manning all day, and Trent Williams is still probably having nightmares of what happened in the second half last week. Antonio Smith is underrated, and Amobi Okoye has resembled the productive player he was as a rookie. The linebacking corps certainly misses Brian Cushing, but his absence hasn't been disastrous. DeMeco Ryans is still DeMeco Ryans, and that makes up for a whole lot. As you noted, they've been very stout against the run, which really goes back to last year (and, coincidence or not, Bernard Pollard's insertion into the starting lineup). Without a doubt, the Texans are infinitely more susceptible to giving up big plays through the air than they are on the ground.
BTB: What has been the biggest key to success in winning the first two games? How high are the fans on the team after two nice victories?
BRB: Tough to say what the single biggest key has been. In Week One, the Texans ran the ball and managed to hassle Peyton Manning like they never have before. In Week Two, the Texans looked horrible in the first half, only to come roaring back on the strength of Matt Schaub's arm, Kevin Walter's totally hidden monster game, Andre Johnson's AndreJohnsonness, and Super Mario deciding that Donovan McNabb would pay for the taunts of the Redskins faithful (and perhaps the sins of all mankind). Last year, the offense was completely one-dimensional; this year, the threat of a true running attack has made a dangerous offense downright lethal. If the Texans can manage to pressure opposing QBs, the Achilles' heel of this team--the secondary--can be minimized. As you'd expect from a fan base that's had only one winning season and only one 2-0 start in its history, fans are tremendously excited right now. Prior to the season, I think many Texans fans would've taken a 2-2 start before Brian Cushing's return. Now? We're greedy. We also are fully aware that the Texans are a team that's broken hearts (and wallets) in the past, so we're trying to enjoy it while we can. A win over Dallas on Sunday would probably result in Bob McNair having to buy a new bandwagon.
Thanks for the knowledge, guys.