The Dallas Cowboys will square off against the Houston Texans in a battle of Texas on Sunday night. The Cowboys are trying to build off momentum after their last-second win over the Detroit Lions. The Texans are coming off a big win themselves, a 37-34 overtime victory against division foes as the Indianapolis Colts gave them their first win of the season. Will the Cowboys be able to emerge victorious and claim state bragging rights on their way to posting their first winning record of the year. Or will they drop a game under .500 for the third time this season? There will be a lot of things to watch on Sunday night, but here are five things that will have my attention when the Cowboys meet the Texans.
1. Wild Card Watson
Before Deshaun Watson suffered a knee injury last year, he was putting together quite the impressive rookie season. In the four games prior to his injury, Watson was torching defenses in a variety of different ways, averaging four touchdown passes per game and adding another 35 yards per game on the ground. He’s come back down to earth this season, averaging slightly less than two touchdowns per game and throwing an interception in each one so far.
The Texans offensive line is not very good, which will not only make it difficult for them to run the ball with Lamar Miller, but also create a lot of pressure for Watson. The young quarterback is accustomed to it though as he’s become very familiar with running around in the pocket. Even though he’ll be on the run, Watson can still be very dangerous. He’s not afraid to use his legs to move the chains or let loose with a big throw down the field. Which brings me to...
2. Watson’s favorite weapon
DeAndre Hopkins had an All-Pro year last season with 96 catches for 1,378 yards. He also caught 13 touchdown passes. No other receiver even reached double-digit TD’s. Hopkins burst back on the scene last season thanks largely in part to his new quarterback who could air it out, allowing him to be the most targeted wide receiver last season with 174 total targets. He already has 44 targets so far this season, which puts him on pace to eclipse last year’s target mark.
How will Hopkins fare against the Cowboys outside corners? Despite having a lot of yards against him, Chidobe Awuzie has been smothering receivers. He has the ability to stay with Hopkins stride for stride, but he will need to get his head turned around quick enough or otherwise the Texans star receiver will pluck the ball right out in front of him. And if Hopkins faces off against Byron Jones, that will be a great battle to watch. Jones is having an outstanding season so far, currently grading out as the top corner in the league based on Pro Football Focus. This could be Jones’ most challenging matchup so far and may serve as a litmus test to determine if he truly is a shutdown corner.
3. Don’t let Jadeveon clown around
This is usually the time we talk about how the Cowboy need to focus on stopping J.J. Watt from wreaking havoc in the trenches. And for good reason, when healthy, Watt’s one of the top pass rushers in the game. Watt is healthy now and is currently second in the league in sacks with five (I’m trying to remember off hand who’s no. 1, I swear I know this one!).
While Watt is always someone to worry about, there’s another edge rusher that is cause for concern for the Cowboys as well - Jadeveon Clowney. After being taken first overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, Clowney has had a slow start, missing games in each of his first three seasons. He finally was healthy enough to play in all 16 games last year and managed to rack up 9.5 sacks on the season. Not too shabby. He had a great game on Sunday, sacking Andrew Luck twice and recovering a fumble in the end zone. It was good enough to earn him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Tyron Smith is going to have his hands full on Sunday night as Clowney is playing at a high level right now. But it won’t just be Smith that has to worry about Clowney’s whereabouts. Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel likes to move him around so he can attack from any position on the line. He’s quick around the edge, but he also has the power to burst through the middle. If Clowney lines up over the nose like a blitzing linebacker, backup center Joe Looney and rookie Connor Williams need to be ready.
It must be nice to have such a talented edge rusher like this on the roster. Oh, wait...
Both Jadeveon Clowney and DeMarcus Lawrence were taken in the 2014 NFL draft. One was selected 1st overall, the other was selected 34th overall.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 4, 2018
One has played in 50 games and has 22 sacks, the other has played in 52 games and has 29 sacks.
I'll let you guess which is which. pic.twitter.com/HCNR6q0a4S
4. Corral Coutee
While Hopkins is the perennial All-Pro receiver, he’s not the only receiver who can do some damage on Sunday. The Texans also have their 2016 first-round pick Will Fuller who can be trouble when he’s healthy, but that’s been a real issue for him as he’s missed games in each of his first three seasons in the league. Currently, he’s dealing with a hamstring issue and his availability for Sunday is uncertain.
The Texans have yet another receiving weapon in hometown boy Keke Coutee, the Texas Tech product who was selected in the fourth round in April’s draft. Coutee has been dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him on the shelf for the first three games, but he was back last week against the Indianapolis Colts and didn’t waste any time making a splash. Coutee had 15 targets, catching 11 passes for 109 yards. He would also have two rushes.
Coutee looks like that dynamic whatever-back that the Cowboys were hoping to get from Tavon Austin. The only difference is - the Texans seem committed to using him extensively. This will challenge the Cowboys slot corner Anthony Brown to hang with the young speedster to limit the damage he can do on offense. The Cowboys defense is still struggling giving up big plays in the passing game so they better have a plan to corral Coutee on Sunday. As Next Gen Stats indicates, he’s very dangerous once the ball is in his hands.
5. Can Dak attack?
Last week the Cowboys went against a team that was strong in the secondary, yet vulnerable to the run so it wasn’t surprising to see Ezekiel Elliott run wild against them. This week, the tables are turned a bit as the Texans are pretty good against the run (ranked ninth at 94 ypg), whereas against the pass they are suspect (ranked 27th at 288 yards a game). The Texans have holes on defense and they lie in the secondary. The question becomes - can Dak take advantage?
It’s not like Dallas can’t run the ball, because they can. The Cowboy will still throw a heavy dose of Zeke at them. But Dak is going to have to make plays if they are to going to win this game.
Prescott’s pocket awareness causes him to rattle easy and with Watt and Clowney breathing down his neck, it’s not going to be easy for him to step up in the pocket comfortably and make throws. He’ll need to be sharp with his reads and get the ball out quickly. The Texans defensive line loves to strip the ball away and sometimes Dak will oblige as he loses track of where the defenders are. A poised Prescott who can attack this Texans secondary is a must if Dallas is going to leave Sunday with a winning record.
What will you be watching on Sunday night?