It's not an exaggeration to say that a healthy Arian Foster may make the difference between the Texans floundering on offense and playing well enough to hang in against a fired up Falcons team. The problem for the Texans and Falcons alike is that no one's sure whether he's going to play.
If you take Houston coach Bill O'Brien at his word, Foster will be a true game-time decision, and whether he plays or not will be entirely determined based on how he feels Sunday. That leaves Atlanta preparing for a phantom, in a sense, because Dan Quinn is sure as hell going to make sure the defense is ready to roll out against Foster. It's just that the team won't know until an hour or two before the game whether they're actually going to face him.
The gulf is huge between Foster and Alfred Blue, a perfectly fine running back who should be able to grind out decent yardage against Atlanta. Last year in his 13 games, Foster averaged 4.8 yards per carry, ran for over 1,200 yards and scored eight times, adding another 38 receptions and five touchdowns. Even a slightly limited Foster is a massive upgrade to the team's offense, which currently features DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver and a series of wicker baskets rigged up to wheels at every other spot. Against an aggressive, attacking Atlanta defense, the Texans need to give Ryan Mallett all the help they can, and Foster's the biggest boost of them all.
If Foster doesn't play, Houston's blueprint is pretty obvious: Run the ball anyways, feed Hopkins, and try to destroy Matt Ryan and the Falcons' ground game with that potentially dominant defensive front. That task becomes much easier if Foster's there to do work, so let's hope he isn't.
Keep a close eye on Foster's status. You know the Falcons will, as well.