Sunday night football. Nothing more fun than kicking back on a Sunday night, turning on the big screen and watching America’s team take on their in-state rival, the Houston Texans. The Cowboys defense had some hiccups last weekend against the Detroit Lions, and as we touched on last week, the Lions win by using play-action and attacking the back end of the secondary. The Texans win in very similar ways, so let’s take a look at what the Cowboys defense can do to stop them.
Keep Deshaun Watson in the pocket
When defending the Houston Texans passing game, the last thing you want to do is allow Deshaun Watson to get outside of the pocket. Watson seems to be much more comfortable throwing the football when on the move or extending plays. This is something the Cowboys secondary will have to know heading into Sunday night’s game. The last thing Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown can do is get caught with their eyes in the backfield when defending DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and the rookie Keke Coutee.
Play - 1: Watson sifting through pressure and delivering a dime
Deshaun Watson Throwing With Ease On The Move pic.twitter.com/66WZTy3F5R— Quarterback Film Room (@QBFilmRoom) October 4, 2018
This is where Watson is at his best. When he gets outside of the pocket, look out. Here he does an excellent job of handling the blitz, breaking a tackle attempt, and delivering a beautiful ball down field to DeAndre Hopkins. With Watson at quarterback, the play doesn’t end until the whistle is blown, do not get caught with eyes in the backfield, or with your guard down.
Play - 2: Extending the play with his legs
Yes, Deshaun Watson can kill you with his arm when extending plays, but he can also kill you with his legs, which makes him really tough to defend. Watson plays the quarterback position very similar to players such as Cam Newton and Alex Smith, in the sense that when the play breaks down, it’s actually just getting started. When applying pressure on Watson, the last thing you want to happen is for him to shake off your tackle attempt, slip outside of the pocket and start his track downfield. On Sunday night, when DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory, and others get in the backfield, they need to be sure to wrap-and-roll Watson to finish the sack, without getting called for roughing the passer.
Texans lack threat of running the football
The Texan-tandem of Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue has struggled to get anything going on the ground so far in 2018. Through four weeks, Miller has carried the ball 58 times, for 225 yards, and zero touchdowns. Miller is dealing with a chest injury, and is questionable for the game, but even with his lack of success and injury issues, he is not a guy you can completely ignore. Miller has shown good vision throughout his career, the ability to break tackles, and catch the ball out of the backfield. The Cowboys will likely play the Texans running game similar to the way they played the Lions last week.
Play - 1: Miller bouncing it outside for a nice gain
This is the Texans best run play through two weeks. The power game. Good pull and seal from Fulton. Seeing Lamar Miller out run two defenders is something we haven’t seen from him. pic.twitter.com/JJ6JZFo2vF— patrick (@PatDStat) September 18, 2018
You won’t see Lamar Miller break off big run after big run, but he does have the ability to break off a nice run or two throughout a game. The Texans run a lot of outside/inside zone, and do a lot of creative things with their offensive line to open up holes for Miller to run through. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith will need to be on their “A” game on Sunday night, being sure to stay in their gaps as the defensive ends work to set the edge. The Texans run game is the least of Rod Marinelli’s worries on Sunday, but we’ve seen the Cowboys defense struggle with weaker running games in years past.
Containing Hopkins, Fuller, Coutee will be key to success
The Houston Texans have one of the best wide receiver trio’s in the NFL with DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and rookie Keke Coutee. Through four weeks, Hopkins already has 30 receptions, 443 yards, and two touchdowns on the season. Hopkins is one of the top three wide receivers in the NFL. HIs partner on the other side of the field isn’t to shabby either. Will Fuller always puts up pretty ridiculous numbers, but has struggled to stay healthy throughout his young career. A name you may not be familiar with, but need to be, is rookie wide receiver Keke Coutee. Coutee was one of my favorite mid-round receivers coming out of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Texas Tech. Coutee is a good route runner, with great speed and the ability to track the ball down field with ease.
Play -1 : Watson to Fuller deep threat connect
Too easy for Watson. Top of his drop and let it fly. Watch Fuller go to work. pic.twitter.com/Djnx9P8ZgD— patrick (@PatDStat) September 19, 2018
This connection has been fun to watch over the last two seasons. While Hopkins is no doubt the better talent, Will Fuller and Deshaun Watson have built a really great connection over the last two years. Fuller does most of his damage down the field in the vertical passing game showcasing his speed and ability to separate. Fuller is also known for his drops, but while he can help you out by dropping the football, he can also kill you by making plays like the one above throughout an entire game. The Cowboys would be wise to show a safety shade to Fuller’s side of the field to protect the over the top ball to Fuller. The safety play for the Cowboys has been rather suspect over the last two weeks, they will need to play much better this week against a very talented WR group.
Play-2: Hopkins becomes an immediate weapon in the red-zone
Deshaun Watson loves DeAndre Hopkins. What is there not to love? pic.twitter.com/8mbTiIX35k— Justin Lonero (@JustinLonero) October 1, 2018
Hopkins is great because he can do it all. Not only does he help get the Texans down the field with his route running, yards after catch, and tough contested catches, but he’s also one of the best red-zone wide receivers in the NFL. The Cowboys do not usually travel corners with star receivers, but it may not be a bad idea to allow Byron Jones to travel with Hopkins when the Texans get inside the red-zone. Byron’s length and athleticism, may matchup well against Hopkins size, and physicality.
Play-3: Keke Coutee is a star in the making
#Texans WR Keke Coutee was the focal point of the Houston offense in his NFL debut. Coutee was used creatively all over the formation and Houston didn't even utilize his deep speed to take the lid off of the defense.— Steve Frederick (@SportsGuyTweets) October 1, 2018
-2 Yards pic.twitter.com/TcnGOOp5tV
It’s been just one game for Texans 2018 fourth-round pick, but he has already made his mark with the Texans. Coutee can win in a variety of ways; in the slot, outside, and even running the football. He is electric with the ball in his hands due to his 4.43 speed and ability to make a man miss at anytime. Coutee is still the Texans third best receiver, but he’s one that will likely give Anthony Brown, his toughest test of the season so far.
Texans offensive line continues to be poor
The Texans have been working to rebuild their offensive line for the last few years using the NFL Draft and free agency. Unfortunately for them, they have still yet to see the results pay off in a positive fashion. The Texans have already began shuffling bodies along the OL looking for any kind of answers they can find. Kendall Lamm was given a promotion to right tackle after second-year tackle Julie’n Davenport has struggled to be productive. Yes.... that noise you hear is DeMarcus Lawrence squealing, waiting to feast yet again. To make matters worse for the Texans, right guard Zach Fulton hasn’t been much better. Things don’t get much better for the left side of the line either for the Texans. Rookie tackle Martinas Rankin has had struggles.
Texans rookie OT Martinas Rankin, who leads all offensive linemen in pressures allowed with 27, has allowed more pressures than six (!!) offensive lines this season.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) October 4, 2018
Rankin is on pace to allow 108 pressures, which would be two less than New Orleans' OL allowed all last season.
Play-1: Texans have struggled to handle ET/TE stunts, something Cowboys have executed well
OTs having issues with ET/TE stunts. Rankin doesn’t pass off the twist and Kelemte gets knocked down. Kelemete gets back up to finish the job. Watson with the TD. pic.twitter.com/RNBL2Iv48O— patrick (@PatDStat) September 18, 2018
The Cowboys are a defense that run a lot of twist, stunts, and other exotic rushes to get their pass rushers home. This is something the Texans have struggled with a lot so far in 2018. With DeMarcus Lawrence lined up as the strong-side defensive end, with either Tyrone Crawford lined up beside him, this combination should give the inexperienced right side of the offensive line fits for the entirety of the game. Lawrence is slated to have another huge game working against a backup RT, and the Cowboys pass rush should be in for a big day if they can get Deshaun Watson to the ground.