This week, we’re celebrating some of our favorite random plays and obscure moments in NFL history — those that WE will never forget, even if others have. Welcome to “Who Remembers?” Week at SB Nation NFL.
When Arian Foster was put into the Texans’ starting lineup for the 2010 season, no one could have predicted he would set the league on fire. Foster was a former undrafted free agent with just six games of experience and one start.
Although he had shown promise as a rookie — including 216 yards and three touchdowns in the final two games of 2009 — he looked like a Canton-bound back in the first week of 2010.
In just his second NFL start, Foster ripped through the Colts’ defense to the tune of 231 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-24 win for the Texans. Only five players have rushed for more yards in a game since.
His performance in the opening game got a bit lost in the Texans’ 6-10 season that year, but it’s worth remembering just how overwhelming Foster was that day. The Texans put together a zone running clinic that left the Colts’ defense in the dust, and he only got better and better as the game went along, scoring two of his three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Here’s how Foster dominated the Colts in his first start of the 2010 season.
Foster slowly chipped away at the Colts in the first half
Houston’s offense in 2010 was run by Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, two coaches who learned under the tutelage of Mike Shanahan. If there was one thing Shanahan and his coaching tree have always been good at, it’s outside zone.
And, man, were the Texans good at outside zone that day against the Colts.
They didn’t have many long runs in the first half, but they thrived on the types of runs that ended up eviscerating the Colts in the second half. Houston wasn’t even trying to do anything exotic — they were just basic zone runs.
The Texans were getting good yardage in the first half on split zone runs with the tight end blocking back across the formation.
They were successful on standard outside zone runs, with fullback Vonta Leach paving the way for Foster.
Houston even threw in a wrinkle on its outside zone with a quick toss taking the place of a standard handoff. Foster was able to take advantage of the crease behind the pulling right tackle for a first down.
None of those runs went for huge chunks of yards, but they were crucial setup for Foster to score three touchdowns in the second half.
Foster hit the kill switch in the second half
Foster’s big second half got started with a 1-yard touchdown run halfway through the third quarter. Houston ran a quick-hitting outside zone to attack the open hole in between the right guard and the center for six points.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Foster showed off some of the physical traits that made him a feared running back early in his career. Houston was running — you guessed it — outside zone, but quick penetration by Dwight Freeney created an obstacle for Foster.
Foster danced around Freeney, made another cut before hitting the line of scrimmage, and then exploded for a first down. Running backs weight in at 230 pounds aren’t supposed to move like this.
To start the fourth quarter, the Texans came back to their split zone look, but with a bit of a modification. In the first clip that showed the Texans’ split zone, Foster was in the backfield by himself with tight end Owen Daniels blocking across the formation.
On this one, Foster had Leach in front of him and wide receiver Kevin Walter was motioned in as the blocker. Walter didn’t do much as a blocker, but he did enough to create a small crease for Foster to exploit on the cutback.
Once Foster saw the hole, he was off to the races for a monster gain. Not many backs have been able to consistently exploit cutback lanes like Foster did — it’s part of what made him such a special runner.
That vision also helped him pick up his second touchdown of the day, which came on yet another split zone run.
By this point in the game, the Colts were predictably tired of getting gashed by Foster on zone runs. They had everybody and their mama on the line of scrimmage trying to prevent Foster from getting outside for a big run.
As the ball was snapped, look at how the Colts accounted for their gaps on defense. They had one defender in each hole to the left of the center, only for Foster to cut back into the teeth of the defense and accelerate for a touchdown.
Not even the safety at the end of the run was going to get him down.
Foster’s third and final touchdown to ice the game came on another outside zone run. The Texans’ offensive line walled off the interior of the Colts’ defense and Leach knocked away the safety, allowing Foster to complete the hat trick.
While Foster ran wild in his first game against the Colts, they held him in check a bit in their second matchup of the season. He “only” rushed 15 times for 102 yards and a touchdown in a 30-17 loss. Foster had a monster season in his first year as a full-time starter, rushing for 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns, even as the Texans finished in third place in the division.
Foster may not be a Hall of Fame player, but he’s an important part of Texans history and he’s easily the best back they’ve had in their franchise’s brief existence.
Not only are Foster’s 231 yards against the Colts still the most rushing yards ever by a Texans player, but he’s also the only running back in team history to record 200 rushing yards in a game. A combination of blocking, scheme, and great individual talent on Foster’s part created a memorable day for the Texans in an otherwise unremarkable season.