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Big Picture: Cowboys & Texans Rolling Early On



Coming off what could be the premier statement win of Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach in Dallas, the Cowboys will want to keep the momentum of a three-game win streak going at home against the in-state rival Texans. Getting to 4-1 before traveling to Seattle in a week would be huge. Putting the ball in the hands of DeMarco Murray doesn't sound like a bad method of doing just that.

For a team criticized in the past for its inability and lack of desire to stick with the run, Murray's rattled off four straight 100-yard rushing days and four straight games with a rushing touchdown to start the year. That's a credit both to a stout offensive line opening tons of running room and Murray making decisive, powerful runs. No one's even in the vicinity of Murray's NFL-leading 534 rushing yards through four games. He's on pace for 2,000 this year, and no one's been able to slow him down.

Play-caller Scott Linehan, Tony Romo and Murray are clicking quickly. Romo said he's feeling better every week, and the combination of health and a successful ground game is leading to stronger performances for the quarterback. Romo's now got six touchdowns passes and one interception in his last three games after a three-pick, one-touchdown performance to open the season. 

If there's any coach as deserving of a game ball as Linehan, it's defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Coming off a historically awful season defensively and with expectations of more of the same, Marinelli's completely flipped the script to start 2014. It's not always flashy, and the front four is still struggling to bring down the quarterback consistently, but the Cowboys are coming off a performance in which they held the Saints scoreless in the first half. That matchup left Morris Claiborne out for the year and Bruce Carter out for the time being, but the linebacker corps appears to be in complete sync thanks in large part to the addition of Rolando McClain, and the defense is significantly exceeding expectations.



This isn't the 2-14 Texans of last year. In fact, in just four games, the Texans already have more wins than last season. Two 3-1 teams will battle when Houston comes to Dallas, and to the surprise of many, it'll also be a contest of two teams in the top 10 in opponents' scoring average. Those predicting a shootout last weekend at AT&T Stadium may want to go the other way if four games is any indication.

That Houston defense is led by a defensive end who has more touchdowns than LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster. That's not because Foster, who's still 11th in the league in rushing despite missing a game, is having a bad year. That's just because of how dominant J.J. Watt, who has a receiving touchdown and a defensive touchdown, has been early on. He's also got two sacks and an interception. First-round pick Jadeveon Clowney may be out, but the Cowboys still have a lot to deal with in Watt.

The Texans have gotten by largely with their defense. Apart from a 30-17 loss in Week 3 without Foster, they've allowed 17 points or fewer in each of their other games. This is Ryan Fitzpatrick's first year as the starter in Houston, and he's got five touchdowns and five interceptions in four games. Meanwhile, the running game's had some shining moments and some duds. [embedded_ad]

Foster had two straight 100-yard rushing games to start the year. He then missed Week 3 and went into last week's game against the Bills questionable with a hamstring injury, finishing with eight carries for six yards. Fitzpatrick was the team's leading rusher with 14 rushing yards. But the magic of Foster, like Murray, is he can beat teams a lot of ways. Foster added seven catches for 55 yards. The Texans are 22nd in total offense in the league, but with Foster on the ground, DeAndre Hopkins deep and Andre Johnson on the outside, they still have weapons. It'll be important to monitor the health of both Foster and Johnson this week, as Johnson missed some time in last week's game with an ankle injury.

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