IRVING, Texas – I wouldn't have guessed in August that this would be a marquee matchup of 3-1 teams, both of which are tied for the division lead. That's exactly what we're looking at as we begin to kick off the second month of this 2014 season – and that's what's so great about NFL football.
Here are my final thoughts for this weekend's matchup against the Texans, including who I think will start in place of Bruce Carter and where Tyrone Crawford will line up on this defensive front.
- The Cowboys defensive staff has options when it comes to how they will play their linebackers against the Texans. If you follow what Jason Garrett tells us weekly about competition and putting the best players on the field, then Anthony Hitchens should be in the starting lineup with Rolando McClain and Justin Durant. Hitchens has proven that these games are not too big for him, and with his ability to get to the ball and finish plays, he is better than what we have seen from Kyle Wilber this season. I expect Hitchens to start. [embedded_ad]
- Look for Texans defensive end J.J. Watt to line up more on the inside than outside in this game, which will put him over Ronald Leary and Zack Martin one-on-one. Watt appears to be more effective getting to the quarterback when he has a straight shot by alignment. Also, in regard to that alignment, it will make it difficult to double-team, due to how he plays more on the outside shoulder of the guard -- which is a gap removed from the center.
- It would not surprise me one bit if, after what we saw from Tyrone Crawford last week playing under-tackle against the Saints, that he once again starts this week against the Texans. It just appears to be such a natural fit for him there inside with the type of game that he has. He is a problem for guards to deal with -- not only because of his power, but his quickness. He is just more of a physical player than Henry Melton at that spot on the early downs. With him and Rolando McClain inside, the run defense improves greatly because they are not getting pushed out of the way. I believe it helps Melton too, because it allows him not to take that pounding on his body which keeps him fresher throughout a game.
- Between Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson at cornerback, Joseph is the better of the two, but he has been dealing with a knee problem all week that limited him in practice time. The Texans like to single their corners up in man coverage and try to handle their opponents that way. Romeo Crennel believes he can get his rush home before the receivers can get open. I expect Crennel to continue this plan of attack and make these Cowboys receivers have to fight for space after what he saw them do to the Saints when given free access in routes.
- My scouting sense tells me Scott Linehan is trying to do things to get Dwayne Harris more involved in the offense each week. Harris is like that Swiss Army Knife that can do a little bit of everything, and Linehan is beginning to realizing that. Whether it's the outside, from the slot or running out of the backfield, Linehan creating opportunities for Harris is a smart thing. What he is learning is something that we all knew already about Harris -- putting the ball in his hands generally has a positive result.
- From my days as a pro scout I remember people in the league telling me that the player Bill Belichick
feared the most when he played the Cowboys was Jason Witten. With the history of Romeo Crennel with Belichick in New England, I have to wonder if he shares the same thought about Witten and his ability to hurt the scheme? I expect we will see safeties D.J. Swearinger, Kendrick Lewis and Danieal Manning all taking turns in trying to deal with Witten and his ability to get up the field and create space, especially on third downs.
- Similar to Drew Brees, who the Cowboys faced last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick gets passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Fitzpatrick tends to throw the ball underneath and between the hashes. With how soft his offensive line tends to play on their sets, getting rushers in his face is a situation that he has to often deal with. Tyrone Crawford has the length and feel for how to get those hands up quickly in the throwing lanes to cause problems. I expect to see a pass or two knocked by the wayside in this game on Sunday.