After two weeks on the season, I think it’s safe to say Houston isn’t the team it used to be. In two weeks, they beat their division rivals that had a 1-15 record against and also showed the will and desire to win a game in which they were down by 17 points. None of these are characteristics of any of the old Houston teams. This week, they have the chance to go to an unprecedented 3-0 when they take on the Dallas Cowboys. For Dallas, the opposite can be said. They’ve been in every game and had every chance to win, but it seems like one little mistake has prevented victory both times. This week they will look to right their season and get it moving in the correct direction against Houston. These two have already met in the preseason with Houston looking like the better and more aggressive team. Will that be the fate of their week 3 matchup or will Dallas get back on track?
Houston’s Running Game vs. Dallas’ Run D: What a difference a year makes. 2 games into the season and Houston has the best rushing attack statistically. However, Dallas has a stingy run defense. It all starts up front with Dallas with Jay Ratliff, their pro bowl nose tackle. He’s got serious strength with the quickness of a three technique. He will cause center Chris Myers problems as Houston struggles with 3-4 teams; expect to see countless double teams. At DE Phillips will rotate Olshansky and Spears (both very balanced) with Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher (both better against the pass). On the inside of the 3-4 at linebacker in Bradie James and Keith Brooking; basically two thumpers who are tackling machines. If they go unblocked, they will terrorize the line of scrimmage. It will be up to guards Antoine Caldwell and Wade Smith to work with Chris Myers to get to them which luckily is the basis of the zone blocking scheme. The only other players worth noting for the run defense are Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer; the outside linebackers. Both will try to keep outside contain and disrupt at the line of scrimmage with tackles Rashad Butler and Eric Winston will do their best to wash them out of the plays. Based on the Cowboys run defense, Houston needs to go right off the tackles. Ware and Spencer need to be treated like Freeney and Mathis in that Houston needs to let them press up field. Arian Foster is a quick runner with great vision who will get the most yards possible on every play. It will be interesting to see if Dallas is able to contain him.
Houston’s Passing Game vs. Dallas’ Pass D: This will probably be the best matchup overall as Dallas has a relentless pass rush while Houston has one the best passing games in the NFL. For Dallas, their strength lies in their pass rush and their corners. The big pass rush threat for Dallas is obviously at outside linebacker with Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware. Spencer is a great athlete but is still learning how to be a consistent threat on the pass rush. Ware on the other hand is an absolute beast and easily one of the best pass rushers in the NFL if not the best. He’s just so incredibly quick and knows how to use his hands well. This along with his amazing athleticism makes him a monster. Houston’s O Line will be for in a battle. RT Eric Winston should be able to battle Spencer, but first time LT starter Rashad Butler will have his hands full. Look for tight end help or running backs to help as much as possible. In the Cowboys secondary are corners Mike Jenkins and Terrance Newman. Newman is a solid speed corner who needs better hands, but is more physical than his size indicates. Jenkins is a young up and comer who had a pro bowl season and a serious knack for making plays. Houston however has the best WR in the NFL in Andre Johnson who will have some good battles. Steady WR Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones will also get time in 3 WR sets and given time should be able to get open. Houston should be able to pass on Dallas, but it all depends on if they can keep Schaub’s jersey clean. If not, it could be a long day for Houston.
Dallas’ Running Game vs. Houston’s Run D: Dallas’ run game is a bit of an anomaly; they have 3 starting caliber running backs Dallas always seems to bail on the run whenever the game gets going. The three running backs are Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. Barber is the grinder of the group, easily the most physical. Jones is the home run threat. He’s the complete opposite of Barber; pure speed and if he gets to the edge it could spell disaster for Houston. Choice is probably my favorite out of the group just because of how balanced he is. He’s got good vision, is patient, and most importantly is balanced. He will see the least carries with Barber and Jones coming close to splitting 50/50. As far as the offensive line goes, the big plus is they’ve been playing together for years. They are also the complete opposite of the zone blocking scheme and use man on man pure strength. This should play into Houston’s strength as Houston’s defensive line is very strong up front. Both Mario Williams and Antonio Smith play the run great and are more physical than most expect. The only possible weak link could be Okoye who will have to rely on speed and quickness as he is pretty weak. With Demeco Ryans in the middle, the defensive ends should be able to play contain on the outside and not have to worry about pinching down. Houston needs to make sure they stop the run so they can focus all their attention on the pass. If not, the Cowboys offense could have a field day.
Dallas’ Passing Game vs. Houston’s Pass D: Get ready for an air attack. While Dallas has a stable of starting caliber RBs, they’ve thrown the ball 99 times in 2 games (tops in the NFL by 13 passes). Under center is Tony Romo. He’s a gunslinger who loves going deep (constantly top 5 in 40+ yard completions) and has great pocket mobility. His receiving group is one of the tops in the NFL. At WR Dallas has Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Roy Williams, and Sam Hurd. Austin is a pro bowler and a complete receiver. He runs great routes, know how to get open, and can beat you in a multitude of ways. Bryant is a rookie and while he’s still trying to get experience, he’s a big play threat. Williams is the most inconsistent and sadly has the most experience; expect to see both on Sunday. As far as tight ends go, Witten is one of the best. He can spread the field and is a mismatch in the middle. As far as their offensive line, there really is no consistency as the starters haven’t played together since training camp. For Houston, they’ve got to attack and get after Romo. Mario can have a big game, but someone else needs to step up because our secondary doesn’t match up well with Dallas’ passing attack well. Kareem Jackson will yet again have his hands free. Speaking of which, free safety Eugene Wilson needs to play deep and strong safety Bernard Pollard needs to be ready over the middle.
QB Advantage: HOUSTON
RB Advantage: DALLAS
WR Advantage: PUSH
TE Advantage: DALLAS
OL Advantage: HOUSTON
DL Advantage: PUSH
LB Advantage: DALLAS
CB Advantage: DALLAS
S Advantage: HOUSTON
K/P Advantage: HOUSTON
RET Advantage: PUSH
X-FACTOR: Mario Williams, DE
As much as it pains me to admit, Mario is once again our only serious pass rush threat as he already has 80% of the team’s sack’s right now. One thing that’s been noticed about Dallas is they don’t have solid play along the O Line yet, partially because of injury and also because the group has played together since the start of training camp. As our big pass rusher, Mario has a chance to alter the passing game for Dallas by making Romo make quick decisions and getting him rattled. Considering how bad our secondary is, we need Mario to have another big game and fluster Romo. If not, we could be looking at a QB torching us for 300+ yards again.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1) Hold Dallas to field goal attempts. Houston’s defense lives by the truism “bend but don’t break” to begin with so this should be no problem. Obviously you want to hold any team to field goals instead of touchdowns, but more so Dallas because of their recent kicking woes. Kicker David Buehler has missed crucial kicks two weeks in a row and is on squarely on the chopping block. It may seem simple and there’s no guarantee that he continues his cold streak, but I’d rather have him trying to win the game over Romo.
2) Prevent the deep pass. Our secondary got a few pass week 1 because it was Peyton Manning, but getting shredded for over 400 by McNabb and giving up 2 huge weeks is cause for concern. In addition, our secondary gave up 4 passes over 30 yards (2 over 60). If given the time, Tony Romo will go deep for the home run ball. We need to keep everything in front of us if we want to have a chance to win this game. Dallas has thrown the ball 99 times so far and we’ve given up the most passing yards which is a recipe for disaster.
3) Keep Schaub upright. Dallas likes to bring pressure, almost to a fault. Last week, they flustered Jay Cutler early on to the point that he was ready to scramble as soon as he caught the snap. Last week for Houston they allowed 5 sacks against Washington; one of their highest totals in the past few years. Schaub did have a truly phenomenal game, but we can’t let him get hit again and again against aggressive defenses. Dallas doesn’t have the strongest safety play so if we want to expose that he will need time to go downfield.