It's never good to be at the stage of having to win a game in September. But for the Cowboys, that's where they stand. Their current record of 0-2 has already seriously impeded their chances of a playoff run. Starting 0-3 would be the nail in the coffin, so to speak.
And defeating the Texans, will be no easy task...
Offensively, the Texans are a more talented version of the Washington Redskins. Head Coach Gary Kubiak is a Mike Shanahan disciple, and runs an almost identical offense.
The Texans - especially now with the emergence of Arian Foster - are going to make it a point to run the football early and often.
Expect to see a lot of stretch plays, as the Texans use the zone-blocking scheme, so if the linebacking corps doesn't remain disciplined or the defensive line is overruns the play, Foster will find the cutback lane and bust a run into the third-level of the defense.
The presence of Andre Johnson is a huge concern for the secondary. The Cowboys corners excel at, and feel most comfortable, when they can physically overpower receivers at the line and knock them off their routes. Johnson, however, isn't going to be knocked off his routes by defensive backs that are four-inches shorter and 30-pounds lighter. If the Cowboys try to counter this by playing constant bracket coverage, the Texans will keep Johnson in constant motion, so he becomes far more difficult to double-team.
The best way to stop Johnson is to stop Matt Schaub.
DeMarcus Ware and Co. are going to have to bring their A-games to Reliant Stadium. A relentless pass-rush can make even the most substandard secondary look good. And with Andre Johnson running routes, a dominating pass-rush is a must.
What to watch: How the Texans attack the middle of the field. The two starting linebackers (Bradie James and Keith Brooking) have been forced to play an inordinate number of snaps. Instead of rotating off the field on third-down and obvious passing situations, as they did last season, both Brooking (34) and James (29) are left on the field. Neither player is dreadful in pass-coverage; however, it is more the physical toll of them having to play almost every defensive snap that I am concerned about. And with Owen Daniels - who is almost more wide receiver than tight end - working the middle of the field, this current predicament the Cowboys are in may be highlighted as more than just that.
Defensively, the Texans run most of their plays out of a 4-3, cover-2 shell.
Like the Chicago Bears, they rely heavily on their defensive line.
Mario Williams, Antonio Smith and Amobi Okoye
All three are talented pass-rushers.
Mario Williams, is of course, the superior of the three. He's a Pro-Bowl defensive end, and is going to give Free another good workout.
The weak point of the Texans defense is the secondary.
While the two starting corners (Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin) are either inexperienced, or just not talented, their strong safety Bernard Pollard, is a player to watch. Pollard is exceptional in run support and is sound tackler. He will play the type of role that LaRon Landry does for the Redskins. He will drop down and blitz, cover tight ends, play the deep center field and line up in the box, almost as a fourth linebacker.
The Cowboys must avoid long third-down situations. The Texans defensive line flourishes when it's allowed to pin its ears back and get after the quarterback. Negative runs are a big no, no.
What to watch: How Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis handle Amobi Okoye's speed. Okoye doesn't play with much power, but has a very good burst and will use his speed to get around slower interior lineman. Davis, especially, will have to work extremely hard to get out of his stance quickly and make sure he gets his hands on Okoye and drives him back out of the pocket.