The Cowboys have been proving themselves as legitimate contenders more and more each week, winners of three straight and still a potential destination for free agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. As far as national headlines go, Beckham is the only player the Cowboys are interested in - or need to catch the Eagles - but the team has a bigger need at cornerback coming off the loss of Anthony Brown versus the Colts.
The Cowboys draw another inferior opponent based on records this week, hosting the 1-10-1 Texans. If the Colts game was a potential trap because of their similar losing record, inexperience at head coach, or veteran QB Matt Ryan who’s always capable of an upset, the Texans don’t present as many challenges. Lovie Smith’s squad has lost by one possession to the Titans, went into halftime tied with the Eagles, and turned a 30-0 deficit at the Dolphins into a more respectable 30-15 loss, but haven’t played a one-score game since week 10 at the Giants and have lost seven straight.
None of these things are nearly good enough reasons for the Cowboys to not continue handling this ease in the schedule before the all-important rematch with the Eagles. The Texans have allowed the most rushing yards in the league, thrown the most interceptions, are are behind only the Broncos in total touchdowns scored this season. Davis Mills will be back in the starting lineup for Houston, the type of pocket passer Dan Quinn’s defense has dominated this season.
Mills’ top targets have been Brandin Cooks, who did not practice on Wednesday, and second-year receiver Nico Collins. If this reads like one of the most lopsided games happening on Sunday, a rare early kickoff for America’s Team, it’s because it is, with hardly any reasons to find a way the Texans keep it close. However, the last meeting between these teams tells a different story.
In week five of the 2018 season, the Deshaun Watson-led Texans took the Cowboys to overtime on a Sunday night in Houston. Watson threw for 375 yards, DeAndre Hopkins made the game-clinching play in overtime, and Dak Prescott threw two interceptions in a game where Ezekiel Elliott was his leading receiver with seven catches. Behind Elliott, Geoff Swaim, Deonte Thompson, and Tavon Austin were Prescott’s targets during this bleak early stretch to the ‘18 season.
Though Mike McCarthy wasn’t on the Dallas sideline then, and he’s proven the Cowboys are prepared for these challenges each week, that game is a reminder of how small the opportunities to win in this league are. The current Texans are unrecognizable compared to the team that won this in-state rivalry last, while the Cowboys have improved drastically on both sides of the ball and now face the pressure to finish in the postseason. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak the Cowboys had built against the Texans, something they’ll be looking to get back to this week.
Giving up over 300 passing yards to Mills would be a surprise, a mark he’s only hit twice this season, but the Cowboys will be working through changes in the secondary with Kelvin Joseph and DaRon Bland trying to step up at cornerback opposite Trevon Diggs.
Houston plays in the worst division in football, with a combined 16-31-1 record, while the Cowboys are in the best as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington all remain in playoff contention. Even in a woeful division that could have kept this game relevant for the Texans, they’re well out of the race and can only find motivation from playing spoiler against one of the top teams in the NFC. This type of slip up is one the Cowboys simply can’t afford, even if they don’t make the same statement they did against the Colts.