FRISCO, Texas – They've been calling this "The Battle of I-45," but I look at it as another opportunity.
This is the Cowboys' third road trip of the season. The first two went poorly, and they'll have five more opportunities after this. How are they going to grow during this trip down the highway to Houston?
Chalk up whatever reason you want to. The Cowboys haven't executed well on the road. They have turned the ball over. They have not looked poise. It's a variety of factors, and it has contributed to some ugly losses to start this season. Good football teams grow and evolve as the season goes along, so we'll consider this a chance to learn from those mistakes.
It's going to be a heck of an environment down at NRG Stadium I have no doubt – far better than the environment the last time these teams met, during the preseason finale back in August. We'll see how the Cowboys handle the challenge.
In the meantime, here's a few final things to look for as kickoff creeps closer.
· There are some plays to be made on this Texans secondary if the Cowboys' offensive line can hold up against the rush. Look for the Texans to move both Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt around to create some matchups to get their rush home. In the past, we've seen the Cowboys counter an opponent's pass rush by getting into 12 personnel and keeping the tight ends to block. It's not something I'd expect to see every time the Cowboys want to pass, but it's a way to make these Texans' pass rushers have to fight a little more on the way to the quarterback. Dak Prescott has done a nice job of delivering on the deep ball here lately, so taking those shots with max protection could pay off big.
· If I am feeling frustrated with this David Irving situation, imagine how the team is feeling. It appears that Irving is only going to get one practice in this week and still have the opportunity to suit up. Honestly, I thought it was going to be a long shot for him to line up and go, even with just three practices under his belt. But Jason Garrett likes to describe Irving as a "freak of nature." With the Texans struggling inside on their offensive line, it will be interesting to see if Irving can pull this off.
· If you're looking for a quick start by the Cowboys' offense, look no further than the struggles the Texans have had with opponents on opening drives. The Texans rank last in the league on opening drives, giving up a total of 21 points on four opportunities. Last week, Jason Garrett opted to play defense first against the Lions, and I would be curious to know which direction he would go if he wins this toss. My guess is that he would take the ball and see if this trend holds true for the Texans.
· There have been several fans that have asked me if I thought Byron Jones would travel with DeAndre Hopkins in this matchup. I don't believe that will be the case. Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard don't have a history of taking their corners and just singling up on the opponent's biggest threat. Marinelli told me one time that when you do that, you change all the coverage rules for the secondary and to him that's just not worth it. Look for both Jones and Chidobe Awuzie to take turns with Hopkins depending on where he lines up.
· I really liked the use of the picks and rubs to get Ezekiel Elliott free on that third down conversion last week against the Lions where Dak Prescott flipped it to him in the flat with receivers driving inside to create traffic for the linebackers to run through. Getting Elliott in space with those picks and rubs takes advantage of his skill set, along with his ability to finish runs. It can also be done with receivers and tight ends working with each other. Big plays can be made when opponents play man coverage, especially on those third downs like the Texans tend to do.
· I'm fascinated to see if the Cowboys' offense can hold up in pass protection and the Texans are forced to blitz to create pressure. Here is something to keep in mind. Opponents have had a quarterback rating of 123.5 when the Texans have blitzed. The league average in those situations has been 87.4. The Texans don't want to blitz. They want to create pressure with Clowney and Watt, which allows them to use their linebackers in coverage. Keep an eye on the flow of the game here and if the Cowboys are having success throwing the ball and what adjustment the Texans make to get them out of it.
· My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mike White, LB Sean Lee, LB Chris Covington, OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, WR Terrance Williams, TE Dalton Schultz, DT Maliek Collins.