Situation Impossible is a weekly column focusing on the most devastating injury of the week in the NFL. "Next Man Up" is a catchy phrase, but some players are harder to replace than others. Here we investigate the alternatives on hand and how a team reacted or will react to having to replace star-level performance.
Injured player: Arian Foster, Houston Texans running back and former Twitter power user.
Injury and diagnosis: This is the worst-case scenario for an athlete whose game depends on explosiveness: a torn Achilles.
Not only will Foster miss the rest of this season; his ability to bounce back will be compromised in 2016. Foster is a 29-year-old running back going into the last year of a deal that could easily be cut—he is out of leverage. It wouldn't be surprising if Foster were sitting out as a free agent in training camp, a la Chris Johnson this year.
What's missing: The Texans haven't had a good running game, empirically, since 2012. This underscores a couple of statistical context factors we shouldn't ignore. One is that the Texans ran more than any other team in the NFL in 2014, mostly to hide the fact that they couldn't throw effectively. The other is that Foster was coming back from a groin injury he suffered in training camp.
So while you can look at this chart and see that Foster hasn't been a particularly effective running back so far, keep in mind that it's a small sample size that occurred as he tried to work his way back to full strength.
The real problem is in the second bit of that chart: the Texans found that Arian Foster was their best non-DeAndre Hopkins receiver on the roster. With Foster incapacitated, they have no real replacement of value to fill that role, and it's not like this team was filled to the brim with receivers in the first place.
What the team will do: Absolutely nothing. They didn't even bother bringing in a replacement running back in free agency. No Pierre Thomas booty calls for this team, no sir.
Kenny Hilliard, their seventh-round pick in this year's draft, is on the practice squad. He'll likely be the first guy the Texans go to. His 40-yard-dash time is in the second percentile of all running backs drafted since 1999.
So don't expect any breakaways from him—or, honestly, from the rest of this group. This is a very power-focused running back depth chart. Only Jonathan Grimes really profiles as a zone back.
X factor: If you're looking for someone to establish himself as "the guy" in Houston for next season, I don't think it's going to happen. None of these runners has shown much this year. Chris Polk performed well for the Eagles last year, but he no longer has that Eagles line blocking for him.
How this will probably shake out is with Alfred Blue taking first- and second-down snaps, and Polk or Grimes catching passes out of the backfield. If you're looking for a fantasy impact, Polk seems to make more sense given how often the Texans have trailed.
Adjusting our expectations: The Texans, somehow, still have a chance to sleepwalk into the postseason. By virtue of being in perhaps the worst division of football in modern NFL history, Football Outsiders gives them a 7.3 percent shot at making the playoffs. This is in spite of the fact that they are the second-worst team in FO's ratings.
At the same time, the Texans also have the second-highest chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick, which would surely be wasted anyway.
As far as Houston's offense goes, the Foster injury weakens a passing attack that was already basically as bad as a passing offense in the NFL could be. Those dumpoffs to Arian Foster are gone, so the offense will somehow be even worse.
More important, Foster is gone—this likely ends his career with the Texans. I'd like to be optimistic and say he's got a shot to play in the NFL next year with his secondary skills and vision, but NFL teams don't put up with plodding running backs. I'd guess we never see him in an NFL uniform again.
The NFL is a cruel world for all players. For running backs, it's even crueler.