The Dallas Cowboys got caught up in another nail-biter only this week they came up short, losing to the Houston Texans 19-16 in overtime. The Cowboys had a chance to grab the division league, but now join the Philadelphia Eagles at 2-3 on the year. The Washington Redskins play on Monday Night and will remain in atop the division regardless of what happens in their matchup against the New Orleans Saints.
This game was a bitter pill to swallow as the Cowboys showed some holes on both sides of the ball. The offense struggled, failing to score at least 17 points for the third time in just five games. The defense looked great at times, but then would give up some big plays that ended up being all the Texans needed to pull out the win. Here are my 10 thoughts on the Cowboys loss to the Texans.
1. Big play tight ends
In each of the Cowboys first two drives, their biggest play came in the form of a passing play to their tight end. First it was Geoff Swaim who, for the second-straight game, caught a pass and turned on the jets for a 43-yard gain. Then, on their next possession, Rico Gathers caught a pass for 32 yards. Even Blake Jarwin caught his first ever career pass for a key first down in overtime.
It’s great that Swaim is playing well, but it’s terrible that he was the team’s leading receiver with three catches for 55 years. It’s the second time this season he’s been the team’s leading receiver. That’s never good.
2. Can’t close the deal
The Cowboys did a great job moving the ball on their first two drives, but had to settle for field goals each time. The offense was great on the early downs, but struggled on third down. Dallas had a chance to make a statement early with a couple scores, but unfortunately that statement was - they still are having trouble getting in the end zone.
Once again, kicker Brett Maher had to do most of the scoring. The Cowboys had four scores on the night, with three of them being field goals. If the Cowboys offense can’t find a way to turn those red zone opportunities into touchdowns, it’s going to be a long season for this team.
3. Too much dancing time for Watson
The Cowboys defense struggled to get pressure on Deshaun Watson. He would only get sacked one time and that was a one-yard loss as he was trying to escape Jaylon Smith. The Texans quarterback would create more time by running around in the pocket. Even when the defense looked like they might get him, he narrowly escaped and made a play. Watson kept extending plays allowing him to his receivers and keep the drive going. He also churned out 40 yards on 10 carries.
Those hits started taking a toll however, as his second half scrambling declined. Considering the state of the Texans offensive line, it was disappointing that the Cowboys pass rush couldn’t come away with more plays.
4. Jaylon comes up big
The Cowboys were driving towards the end of the first half, but an interception shifted the momentum back to the Texans. In 90 seconds, Watson led his offense 67 yards down the field. Unfortunately for the Texans, they need 68. Houston had the ball inches from the goal line and Texans head coach Bill O’Brian decided to go for it on fourth down. If they punched it in there, it would’ve given them a 17-6 lead going into halftime. Instead, it remained a four point game as Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith flashed some of that Notre Dame speed and chased Watson down before he could get in the end zone.
That was worthy of a swipe.
It was also a nice game from his linebacker partner Leighton Vander Esch as the rookie racked up 14 total tackles, 11 of which were solo. The Cowboys have some things to sort out on defense, but the absence of Sean Lee doesn’t appear to be affecting them.
5. What can Brown do for you?
The second half couldn’t have started any better when the Cowboys defense came away with a turnover. Cornerback Anthony Brown was able to pull away Deandre Hopkins arms, causing the ball to come loose. Fellow cornerback Jourdan Lewis was right there to jump on it and then get up and scamper 14 yards setting up the Cowboys offense deep in Texans territory?
The Cowboys could not ride that momentum into seven points however, as they once again stalled out and had to settle for a field goal.
6. Costly non-catches
I’m not going to call them drops (although some were exactly that), but the Cowboys receivers struggled to catch the ball on Sunday night. Whether it was poorly thrown passes, having a defender draped all over them, or just a flat letting the ball slip through your hands, the Cowboys had some costly incompletions. Deonte Thompson just couldn’t come down with a third down pass that would have kept the chains moving. Tavon Austin made a great play on the ball while toe-tapping the sidelines, but the ball popped out as he contacted the ground. The coaches would challenge the play, but it would not be overturned. And then there were the two interceptions that were deflected off the receivers. In fact, all four of Dak’s interceptions this year have came off of deflections. That’s not to say they weren’t his fault as some of these passes were not thrown well, but Dallas continues to be on the wrong end of these deflected balls.
7. Another costly mistake by Gregory
Randy Gregory hurt his team in Seattle when a personal foul put the Seahawks in field goal position at the end of the half, resulting in a free three points. Against the Texans, Gregory had a costly penalty that gave Houston new life. On a third and long play in the fourth quarter, Gregory would get called for a hands to the face penalty, giving the Texans a new set of downs.
The Texans would keep the drive going and kick a field goal. In a game where points are scarce, these plays are damaging.
8. Goal line stands
The Texans offense would come up with some big plays, but the Cowboys defense really buckled down when they got near the goal line. Houston had the ball near the goal line four different times, but only once did they score a touchdown. The Cowboys defense forced two field goals and had a turnover on downs at the end of the first half. What a great defensive stand by the Cowboys defense to hold them there. It’s a shame they couldn’t muster up enough offense to go with it.
9. Houdini Part II
You all know the infamous Tony Romo spin move to escape J.J. Watt the last time these two teams met where he then heaved it into the end zone for a touchdown. Well, Dak got his Houdini moment against Watt as well. After escaping from Watt, Prescott was able to roll to his left and launch it down field to Tavon Austin.
10. Controversial 4th down call
The Cowboys won the toss in overtime and elected to receive the ball. They started out pretty good with a couple first downs after a Ezekiel Elliott and Blake Jarwin were able to turn short passes into first downs. But then the team was faced with a 3rd-and-1 at the Texans 42-yard line. After a Zeke run went for no gain, head coach Jason Garrett decided to punt the ball rather than go for it on fourth down. Was that a mistake?
Well, as it turned it, it proved costly as the Texans moved the ball down the field and kicked the game winning field goal. The Cowboys could have taken matter in their own hands and just went for it there. Of course, the Texans faced a similar situation last week when Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich gambled and went for it, but failed to convert. It proved costly for them as it set the Texans up nicely for a game winning field goal.
Reich took a lot of heat for that decision and you better believe Garrett is going to as well this week.