W2W4: New England Patriots vs Houston Texans

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When the Texans Run the Ball:

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With Texans running back Arian Foster on the disabled list with an Achilles injury the once dangerous Houston running game is a shell of its former dominant form from just a few years ago. Foster had just four starts and rushed for just 163 yards on 63 carries and a 2.6 yards per attempt average (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted).

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In place of Foster the Texans feature former LSU star running back Alfred Blue. Blue was a 2014 sixth round draft pick. Other than a week three explosion for 139 yards versus Tampa Bay, Blue has struggled against better defenses. Last week against Buffalo Blue had just four rushes for 14 yards as Chris Polk (30 snaps on offense) and Jonathan Grimes (27 snaps on offense) carried the load.

Houston has actually performed better in the running game the past three weeks as they have topped 120 yards on the ground in each of their last three games after topping that mark just once in their first nine games. Rotating their three running backs and making a commitment to the running game has keyed Houston’s hot streak as they climb the standings.

Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

New England has struggled the past two weeks on run defense as they felt the loss of their dynamic duo of linebackers. Dont’a Hightower is a thumper in the running game and since going down with a knee injury against Denver the Patriots’ run defense has sprung a leak. Although getting Jamie Collins back last week helped, the Patriots have struggled with veteran Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Freeny getting more snaps.

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Hightower is questionable for the Houston game and if he plays will make a significant impact. The Patriots allowed 128 yards on 33 carries against Philadelphia for a 3.9 yards per attempt average but while Demarco Murray was held to just 24 yards on 8 carries, scatback Darren Sproles sliced through the defense for 66 yards on 15 carries.

Strong safety Patrick Chung was listed as questionable with a foot injury and would be a big loss of the defense in the running game if he is unable to play. Chung has been a stalwart in coming up and making plays in the running game and the drop-off–just in experience, communication, and scheme knowledge–to back-up Jordan Richards is considerable.

With a strong defensive line and improved health at linebacker, the run defense should improve back to the defense which held five straight offenses under 100 yards per game. Houston’s running game has been on the upswing but their struggles from earlier in the season are not completely in their rear-view.


Next: When the Texans Pass the Ball