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Houston @ Dallas; Game Preview

Let me a put a disclaimer out there; I never watch the Houston Texans play football. Of all the teams in the league, the Texans are at the bottom of my list of teams I'll watch on Sunday Ticket when the Cowboys aren't playing. No slight against the Texans, I just have no interest in watching them, and since they were on a bye last week, I couldn't Tivo their game to get an idea about how they play. So everything I'm writing here is based on stats and articles written about how they've played this year. But you never get a really good idea about a football team until you watch them play. I guess I get that opportunity tomorrow.

So instead of pretending that I know a lot about the Texans' personnel and strategies, I will make this review more about what the Cowboys need to accomplish in this game, besides the obvious of getting a win.

Cowboys offense vs. Texans defense

The big question this week is how will the Cowboys decide to attack a very soft Texans defense? They are terrible against the run, and worse against the pass. After last week's underwhelming, turnover-filled, no blocking on pass plays suck-fest turned in by the Cowboys offense, will Parcells play it safe and hand the ball off to JJ and MB3? Or will he take the opportunity to work on the pass-protection schemes and Bledsoe's ability to get in sync with his receivers? I think it will be both.

The Cowboys will probably use this game to return to their basic offensive philosophy, which so far has been to use the pass early then mix in the ground game to control the clock. The Texans pass defense is lousy; they give up the most yards per game in the NFL through the air. They also don't do well in creating interceptions and sacking the QB (although they did get to Daunte Culpepper 5 times in their most recent game). They also blitz quite a bit - 50% of the time in the Miami game - and if you blitz regularly and don't get to the QB then you're going to give up a lot of yards.

This will be a good chance for the Cowboys to work on their blitz protections schemes that were shredded by the Philly defense. Flozell Adams needs to block down on blitzes up the middle and leave the outside guy to the backs or TE's. This was the major flaw in the Philly game. The Texans will obviously try to emulate the Eagles attack, so let's see if Adams and Kyle Kosier have learned anything from last week.

Drew Bledsoe could also use a confidence-boosting game. If he throws interceptions this week, then something is definitely wrong because the Texans have one interception all year. Even if the line blocks poorly this week, Drew has to show that he won't continue to make the same mistakes of throwing the ball when he's getting hit or can't step into the throw. This is when he gets into the most trouble. He also needs to get Jason Witten and Terrell Owens more involved in the offense. We've heard the about this issue all week concerning Owens, but there is some logic in using one of your biggest weapons - and most expensive weapons - regularly. A couple of long hookups between Owens and Bledsoe could go a long way towards smoothing over the rift forming between the two.

JJ and MB3 should have big games. The Texans run defense is not very good and Dallas has shown they can run the ball on anybody. After the Cowboys work on a regular mix of pass and run in the early part of the game, Parcells will force-feed JJ and MB3 the ball to try and salt away a win. If Dallas can build a lead, MB3 may see a lot of action in the 4th quarter.

On offense, I expect the Cowboys to play their regular game. There won't be a huge shift one way or the other in their pass/run play ratio. They need to get the passing game functioning well again, so they will take their opportunity to work on it against a blitzing team that is not the best in the league at creating pressure. They should take this chance to work on the Bledsoe to Owens connection, because we'll need it more and more as the season progresses. Then they will turn to JJ and MB3, whose carries will grow and grow as the game moves on.

Cowboys defense vs. Texans Offense

If the Cowboys defense can't dominate this game then we need to start worrying that were not as good as we think we are. I know David Carr has had a really good season so far, and I always use caution by saying we playing an NFL team and anything can happen. Still, I'm going to put it out there this week, our defense needs to show some serious muscle this week.

Ron Dayne has become the featured back in Houston, and we all remember what happened the last time we saw him. But the Texans line isn't the Denver line, and Ron Dayne has shown over the years that he is an average back at best. The Dallas front seven should be able to keep the Texans run game in check, without committing Roy Williams to the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys need to have a healthy respect for David Carr, Andre Johsnon and Eric Moulds. The best way for Houston to win this game - besides getting turnovers or big special teams play - is for this trio to dominate the Cowboys secondary. Even though we know we have good talent in the secondary, they've been a little too accommodating in giving up big plays. Pat Watkins will especially be under the microscope this week; Houston will see if they can replicate some of Philly's success against the rookie safety.

This game would be a good time for the Dallas to get some more pressure on the QB and not just from Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware. That means you, Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. Just because the DE in a 3-4 is not expected to be the leader in QB pressures, you've got to give us something more than we've seen so far. While I wouldn't suggest Dallas go blitz happy this game, that's one way of opening up the secondary to big plays, I would like to see a little more concerted effort to get to the QB. Maybe a little more stunting from the defensive line and let's get that Roy Williams/Bradie James blitz up the middle working again. In a couple of games earlier in the season, that particular blitz was effective.

Overall Dallas should play their normal defense but with a little more emphasis on getting pressure on the QB. I doubt that Houston can seriously hurt us by running the ball, so David Carr will be the key to the game. The Cowboys needs to re-establish some of their swagger on defense, and one of the best ways to get that done is by sacking the QB. Besides that, Dallas needs their secondary to tighten down the coverage and Pat Watkins needs to prove that he's ready to be a starter in the NFL. This game is his chance to show last week was a fluke.

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