When facing Houston, beware of the play-action

When you can run the ball as effectively as the Texans do, your offensive playbook opens up in a big way.

Feel like running a fly route deep down the field? Want to send your quarterback out of the pocket on a bootleg and have him look for a big gain? Have a desire to slip a tight end out down the seam and hit him for a third down pick-up?

That’s all available for coach Gary Kubiak’s team, and it’s successful week after week because of the success that the Texans have had on the ground.

It all starts with the rushing attack for Houston. The threat of dynamic running back Arian Foster, who rushed for a league-best 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, opens up the passing game for quarterback Matt Schaub and allows the Texans to work heavily off the play-action game.

“That’s really what they do,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Everything starts with the run. They do want to establish the run. They’ve been really good at that, obviously, then hard play-action gives them protection. It gives Matt time to get back and sit back there and give those downfield routes time to develop.

“That’s where you see Owen Daniels and Jacoby Jones downfield. You saw, of course, Andre (Johnson) with all the different stuff he runs with the single-receiver routes. That’s a big part of what they do, especially on early downs.”

Even when Foster doesn’t have a big day on the ground, the threat of the run can be enough to give Houston favorable opportunities through the air. Working without Johnson - one of the NFL’s top wide receivers - last week, the Texans still had plenty of success moving the ball against the Raiders. Houston piled up 473 yards, including 403 passing yards.

They relied heavily on the play-action game that afternoon, sucking in the Oakland linebackers and safeties and opening up space down the field for big plays in the passing game.

The Ravens are obviously well-aware of this strategy, but stopping Houston’s offense is easier said than done. If you lay back on the running game expecting play-action, Foster will capitalize on that split-second of indecision and burn you for a big gain on the ground. If you push guys up to stop what you think is another stretch running play to the third-year back, Schaub can beat you over the top.

“That’s their offense,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “Their offense is built on the run, to get you running, get you moving, get you to make a mistake. Then all of a sudden, you’re so fixed on the run, they run a boot and they’ve got some guys who can get downfield. Especially when they had 80 (Andre Johnson), but they’ve got some other guys who can get downfield.

“They slip those tight ends; they look like they’re blocking, but they’re not, and all of a sudden, they’re running clear across the field about 30 yards deep for a bomb. Their big thing is to pound the run and then get big chunk plays in the passing game.”

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