Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 5: Cowboys-Texans — Four Things To Watch For

The Texans will try to gang tackle the Cowboys this Sunday night at NRG Stadium.
The Texans will try to gang tackle the Cowboys this Sunday night at NRG Stadium. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Much like presidential elections, the Olympics, the World Cup, and my getting on a workout kick, the Texans playing the Cowboys in the regular season is something we only get once every four years. To that end, for just the third time in the history of both franchises, the Texans will host the Cowboys at NRG Stadium. I don't know if the scarcity of the matchup is good or bad, as it certainly amps up the juice for Sunday's game, but seeing the two teams play each season would add some spice to the schedule, for sure.

Regardless, we in the media tried our best to pull something from the Texans players this week that would feed a "War for the Texas Supremacy" narrative. To the players' credit, they really weren't having any of it. Right now, the Texans aren't some sort of Lone Star State juggernaut trying to defend their patch of Mother Texas. They're just a 1-3 football team trying to get their second win of the year, opponent be damned.

The Texans came into this season with high hopes of competing for an AFC title, and now, according to Bovada, the Texans are a +500 shot (risk $100 to win $500) just to make the playoffs! So, yes, they have work to do, and it starts with beating the Cowboys this Sunday night in prime time (on NBC on TV and SportsRadio 610 on the radio, tune into the pregame and postgame for more of, well, ME!)

Let's quick look at four things to watch for....

4. Watt and Clowney Show, Episode 2
Unfortunately for the Texans, one other thing that took four years to happen was J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney being dominant in the same game, something we were promised with far more regular frequency when Clowney was drafted in 2014. Against the Colts last week, the two put up a slew of crooked numbers in the box score, both getting multiple sacks, tackles for loss, and Clowney scoring a touchdown. As a result, Clowney was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week and Watt was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month. Whatever Romeo Crennel was doing to unleash the inner, two headed beast in these two, he needs to do more of it, because....

3. Texans secondary
....this area of the team has been scary — the BAD kind of scary — the last two weeks. Despite Watt and Clowney performing at herculean levels in Indy last week, Andrew Luck STILL threw for over 460 yards. Eli Manning completed 86 percent — EIGHTY SIX! — of his passes the week before in the Giants' win at NRG Stadium. The narrative on BOTH of these guys coming into each of those games was that they each might be shot, Eli because he is old and Luck because he's damaged goods. The biggest issues in the secondary have been scheme (what's up with these ten yard cushions) and depth. Kevin Johnson and Aaron Colvin weren't playing all that well to begin with, but now both are out long-term and your corners are Johnathan Joseph (87 years old) and two guys who weren't even on the team in Week 1 in Shareece Wright and Kayvon Webster, who both have awesome cornerback names that sound like my son made them up on MADDEN, but they might not be able to cover anybody. Fortunately, Dak Prescott and this receiving corps should be a step down from previous weeks, but still...yikes.

2. Ezekiel Elliott
So when your top wide receivers are Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns, you'd better have a different gameplan than slinging it all over the yard. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they possess one of the top workhorses in all of football in running back Ezekiel Elliott. Last week, against the Lions, Elliott was basically the entire offense, with 29 touches for 240 yards. They basically just said "Screw it, we are paying this guy, so let's ride him into the ground." Fortunately for the Texans, if the Cowboys go that route, it plays to the Texans' strengths. Right now, their defense is second in rushing DVOA, so if the Texans can contain Elliott, that will put the onus on Prescott and the Cowboys' shoddy passing game to move the ball, which is problematic for Dallas, because Prescott ain't no Deshaun Watson. Speaking of which....

1. Spread 'em out
Last week against the Colts, the Texans apparently went back to using the playbook that generated so well over 30 points per game last season. You know, the one with all the run-pass options, designed runs for Watson, and rampant pre-snap motion in the backfield. You know....the playbook that WORKS. It's no coincidence that the Texans finally started scoring in the red zone and goal to go situations in a game where they completely unleashed Watson. Um, Bill, let's do more of that. With the addition of rookie WR Keke Coutee into the mix, this offense now has three dynamic pass catchers that should help Watson overcome the shaky offensive line in front of him, as long as O'Brien keeps spreading things out and allowing Watson to operate outside the picket and operate in the QB running game, which are both far less risky propositions than having him stand back there in the pocket and try to be Tom Brady, especially against this Dallas pass rush, which is one of the team's strengths.

SPREAD: Texans -3
PREDICTION: Texans 27, Cowboys 20
RECORD: 1-3 SU, 1-3 ATS

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast