The NFL may have evolved into a passing league, but as the Ravens proved last week when Ray Rice was injured, it's critical for any successful team to have two strong running backs.
And the Ravens' opponent this week, the Houston Texans, have that, with Arian Foster and Ben Tate comprising one of the best running back tandems in the league.
Foster deservedly has received most of the headlines, with three straight 1,000-yard seasons. But Tate, the Salisbury, Md., native and fourth-year back out of Auburn, has proved to be an outstanding backup. Tate reeled off a 60-yard run in the Texans' first series last week against Tennessee, and through two games leads the Texans with 148 yards on 18 carries. Foster has carried 37 times for 136 yards.
"We definitely have our plate full this week,” Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.
"Both of them excel on the zone scheme," former NFL scout John Middlekauf said. "You gotta press the hole, and you gotta be a one-cut, downhill type player, and both of them have exceptional downhill burst, are physical players."
"I didn't notice a dropoff when Tate comes in the game," Middlekauf added.
Middlekauf also said both backs benefit from the Texans' "excellent, high-level, athletic line. They have athletes all over their offensive line."
The Ravens have had their hands full with Foster before. He ran 27 times for 132 yards against the Ravens in the 2011 playoffs, and also ran for 100 yards against the Ravens in 2010.
In the Texans' 43-13 romp over the Ravens last season, Foster carried 19 times for 98 yards and two scores, and Tate ran 10 times for 47 yards.
Foster has led the league in touches twice in the past four years, in part because he is, according to Middlekauf, "an unbelievable pass catcher."
There has been speculation that Foster has not been happy sharing the workload with Tate, and Foster was visibly frustrated on the sideline of the season-opener against San Diego at one point. Foster, though, tried to defuse any running back controversy a few days later, saying Tate is "one of my best friends on the team. We’re really close. I’m always pulling for him while he’s out there."
It's admittedly a nice problem to have for Houston coach Gary Kubiak.
"We feel good about both of them," Kubiak said on Wednesday. "We want them both to get their touches. We’d like it to be somewhat close to even, [but] you never know how that’s going to pan out."
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said the ability to run Foster and Tate out there, essentially interchangeably, is "huge, especially for the duration of the season. In the league nowadays, you need to have multiple guys that can come in and perform at that level and we’re fortunate to have both of those guys. ... With the wear and tear that you see during the season, it’s just great to see both of them carrying the load.”