Yeah, Andre Johnson is going to play on Thursday and he is a handful for any secondary, much less one that isn't certain its Pro Bowl cornerback will be healthy enough to go. But if the Eagles intend on bouncing back against Houston, the first priority is Arian Foster and a powerful, and versatile, Texans running game.
This is not intended as any lack of respect for Johnson. The guy is an absolute beast at wide receiver -- big and strong, fast with excellent hands and a will to be great. The secondary has to respond to Johnson all over the field. Sean McDermott has a scheme in mind, for sure, and the expectation is that the Eagles will have to make sure Johnson doesn't spend too much time in one-on-one situations.
But Foster is the player who makes the Houston offense go. He is a second-year running back from Tennessee who already has gained 1,147 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He averages 5.1 yards per carry and he has everything you want in a premier back. Foster already has 224 carries, so durability is not a problem.
Oh, and Foster has 48 receptions and another 453 yards in the passing game and when you add up all the numbers, well, you can appreciate everything Foster means to an offense that can be as dangerous as any in the NFL. He leads the league in rushing yards, and in touchdowns.
And Foster is just scratching the surface of what he can do.
In Sunday's win over Tennessee, Foster accounted for 218 of Houston's 346 offensive yards, a staggering 63 percent of the production. Foster ran for 143 yards on 30 carries -- 18 of which came in the second half -- and he caught 9 passes for 75 yards.
"He does everything great," said defensive end Trent Cole. "He makes that offense go. That's a great player right there."
Houston runs the ball very, very well. Foster has gained more than 100 yards in six games this season. He is not Chris Johnson, who reserves field and catches defenses in over-pursuit mode. Foster is not Michael Turner, a power runner with tree trunks for thighs. He is not Maurice Jones-Drew, a low-gravity back with a hint of dash and sizzle. Nor is Foster in the mode of Frank Gore, who runs with knees high and his shoulders low.
Foster is unique in that he has a little bit of everything, and it is not a stretch at all to suggest that he has emerged in his second NFL season as one of the very best two or three backs in the league. The challenge is formidable.
"We rely on Arian to be on the field on every play. He is a three-down back," said Houston head coach Gary Kubiak. "As he goes, we kind of go. We need him at his best."
McDermott have to change much with his defense, not that he has had a lot of time to do so in the short week, anyway. The Eagles have been strong against the run this season -- a 61-yard run by Matt Forte on Sunday notwithstanding. The play of defensive tackle Antonio Dixon has made a huge difference, and the steady and productive hand of Mike Patterson has shored up some early-season concerns.
And while the goal is to not give up big plays down the field to Johnson and other talented receivers quarterback Matt Schaub has to throw to, the first order of business has to be Foster. Everything in Houston's offense begins with him. Schaub can't hit the Eagles down the field with play-action passing without Foster establishing the ground game first. Houston isn't able to spread the field and show its formation diversity until Foster has had success running the football.
"He is obviously someone we have to be aware of," said linebacker Stewart Bradley. "They have a lot of weapons, a very explosive offense. But Foster is a special kind of player. He does everything for them."
The defense is looking for a big rebound on a short week. Johnson, after his on-field brawl against Tennessee, is garnering all of the attention this week. And he deserves it. He is a franchise superstar wide receiver. But the key to that offense is Foster, the one who is going to demand that the Eagles tackle well, are aggressive and play their best brand of defense to keep the Texans offense in check.