Odd Man Rush: Foster the key to getting Texans on track

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If there is one thing that Houston Texans running back Arian Foster may just have more of than touchdowns, it is confidence.

Confident that Houston's 1-3 finish to the season won't impact that club come Saturday's wild card matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Confident Cincinnati's momentum built by a strong finish won't factor into the outcome.

Confident that the Texans will show up ready.

"I think if you have any concerns going in, you're not going to play well," said Foster. "I'm not concerned about anything. To me this game always has been and always will be about fun. You have to go out and play."

And that's what Foster does. That and score touchdowns.

The undrafted Tennessee product had another solid season, finishing second in the AFC with 1,424 rushing yards and leading the NFL with 17 total touchdowns, 15 of those on the ground. He has scored 47 times in the regular season since the start of the 2010 season.

If it was even possible, he seemed to find another gear in last season's playoffs.

In Houston's first ever playoff game, coincidentally a wild card showdown with Cincinnati, Foster went off for 153 yards on 24 carries in a 31-10 rout. His second touchdown of the game helped seal things in the fourth quarter when he broke outside and raced 42 yards for a score.

"I think the thing I respect the most about Arian, it looks like the bigger the moment, the better he runs. And that's a quality in a player that's special," noted Houston head coach Gary Kubiak.

"Even last week (a 28-16 loss to the Indianapolis Colts), we struggled running the ball and he makes a 35-yard run that in all honesty should have been a five-yard loss. That's the type of player he's become. He's accountable. We talk about guys stepping up and saying, 'You can count on me to make plays.' You can always count on Arian to make plays."

Foster will have to make plays if the Texans want to avoid wasting an 11-1 start with a first-round exit.

The fact that Houston is even playing this weekend is a testament to its struggles. The loss to the Colts dropped them out of the AFC's top seed and into the third spot, hence this weekend's home date with the Bengals.

The Texans have averaged just 12.0 points per game in their three losses over the past four games. Quarterback Matt Schaub -- who makes his postseason debut after sitting out last season's playoff games due to injury -- has been picked off three times without a touchdown pass in those setbacks, and hasn't topped 300 yards passing in five straight games.

Schaub's sack numbers are also up -- 12 in the last four games.

So what does Houston have to do to avoid a defeat this weekend?

"I think that's the core of what we do, is running the ball," said Foster. "And I think when we're effective running the ball, it opens up our offense. It keeps our defense off of the field. That's what we like to do."

Makes sense, seeing as the Texans went 7-0 this season when he rushed for more than 100 yards in a game.

Foster said he doesn't know what makes him successful on the big stage, that he just shows up. But whatever he does, it certainly helps his teammates feel better.

"It's a comfort level for the offensive line, I'll tell you that," said center Chris Myers of having Foster in the backfield. "You know, when you're able to not get your guy exactly where you want to get him, for him to be able to make a quick move and get some yards, it makes you look a little better than you are."

Foster can also make Schaub look a little better. He has hauled in a pair of touchdown passes in each of his previous three seasons and in 2011 he added 53 receptions and 617 yards through the air to his ground-game total.

Those numbers were down this year, 40 catches for 217 yards, and Kubiak wasn't exactly sure why, but that doesn't mean the Bengals don't have to keep an eye on him when Schaub drops back to pass.

"He's such a great reader. He can read within his four steps, whether he's going to cut the ball or whether he's going to stay front side," noted Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga. "He has a lower center of gravity that can run you over. He can beat you to the side and can get that extra five or 10 yards after contact. In the passing game, he does a good job of being open, getting in the end zone in the red zone."

And as for the Bengals, who won seven of their final eight games this season, having all the momentum ahead of Saturday's meeting, Foster isn't buying it.

The 26-year-old Pro Bowler cited the 2007 New England Patriots team that went undefeated in the regular season and won two playoff games before losing in the Super Bowl.

"That's why I was never a believer," he said of momentum. "I believe that you play well on each Sunday, or in this case Saturday. I mean it's a different game, different atmosphere. Two teams squaring off that haven't seen each other all year. I don't really see what the past games have anything to do with that. I think you can learn from your mistakes and then move on but each game is new to me."

If the Texans have learned anything at this point, it is that putting the ball in Foster's hands is always a good thing.