The Dallas Cowboys are hoping the AFC South cakewalk continues as they prepare to face the league’s worst NFL team, the Houston Texans. This game has a unique feel as it’s practically unimaginable to see a scenario where the Cowboys don’t leave Sunday without capturing their 10th win of the season. Such a feat will give the Cowboys their first back-to-back double-digit win season in 26 years. It’s crazy to think that it’s really been that long since this Cowboys team strung together two consecutive seasons like that.
What will it take to keep this good thing going? Here are five things to watch when the Cowboys host their in-state rivals on Sunday.
1. Where are the points going to come from?
For the second-straight season, the Texans are bottom three in points scored. They are also dead last in yards gained during that span. Make no mistake about it, this Houston offense is very bad. Here is where they stand in many of the key offensive categories:
- 3rd-down conversion (dead last)
- Touchdowns (2nd-worst)
- Red zone percentage (3rd-worst)
- Turnovers (3rd-worst)
The Texans haven’t exceeded 17 points in a game in each of the team’s last six contests. They keep going back and forth between under-performing quarterbacks (first Davis Mills, then Kyle Allen, and now back to Mills). Their only bright spot has been rookie running back Dameon Pierce, but even he has disappeared lately as he’s averaging less than 30 yards per game over the last three matchups, including back-to-back eight-yard performances.
If there is ever a game where the Cowboys' defense might goose their opponent, this could be it as it’s hard imagining many opportunities where the Texans even cross midfield.
2. If they want it, take it!
The Cowboys defense led the entire league last season with 34 takeaways. And even though this current defense is a stronger group, statistically speaking, this team was almost inevitably going to regress in the turnover department. And they have. They’re not first this year. They’re second.
Yes, thanks to a five-takeaway game against the Indianapolis Colts last week, the Cowboys are just one turnover short of catching the Philadelphia Eagles for the top spot. They face a Texans offense that is third-worst in giveaways and no team has thrown more interceptions this year. They’ve turned the ball over multiple times in five-straight games. With a full-throttle pass rush and a defense waiting to pounce on every mistake, look for the Cowboys to continue their ascension up Mt. Takeaway.
3. Dine and Dash with a splash of trash
Not only does Houston have all kinds of problems on offense, but they have their share of defensive woes too. In particular, they are worst in the league in rushing yards allowed surrendering over 2,000 yards this season. Twice the Texans defense has given up over 280 yards on the ground, including allowing 314 yards against the Tennessee Titans. Make no mistake about it, they are the Texas team who can’t stop the run.
The Cowboys are coming off their best rushing performance, running for 220 yards against last week. Expect to see a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, but then also some more carries from UDFA rookie Malik Davis should we see some garbage time.
4. Some new faces
While we shouldn’t just assume the Texans are going to lay down and die for the Cowboys, it still feels like the game script could offer up some garbage time. If the Cowboys take care of business early, we could get a little taste of some other players we haven’t seen all that much off.
We know that second-year corner Kelvin Joseph will get an increased workload regardless as the team maneuvers without Anthony Brown on the outside, but what about his fellow 2021 draft-class teammate Nahshon Wright? The former third-round pick hasn’t played a single down on defense (he’s played a little bit on special teams), but this game could present a low-risk opportunity to get him some reps. If they get a lead, could we see a little more of Jalen Tolbert? Will free agent acquisition James Washington make his Cowboys debut?
5. It’s their game to lose
The only way the Cowboys don’t walk away winners in this game is if this team comes out and plays sloppy. Dak Prescott is taking a lot of chances this year as is interception rate is at a career high 3.3%, which is third-worst in the league, one spot better than Texans quarterback Davis Mills (3.4%). If the Cowboys start turning the ball over, making some poor fourth-down decisions in their own territory, or start up again with an epidemic of penalties, then they could allow this Houston team to stick around.
Remember, the Cowboys only held a two-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter last week before the Colts unraveled, so if it’s the ‘Boys being careless, anything could happen.