IRVING, Texas – It's a funny quirk of the NFL that the Cowboys' nearest geographical opponent, the Texans, only shows up on the schedule once every four years.
This is the Texans' 13th season in the league, but this will be just the fourth regular season meeting between the two Texas clubs. It's the first regular season game between the two since 2010 – back when J.J. Watt played for Wisconsin.*With that in mind, I asked Deepi Sidhu from HoustonTexans.com to help me preview this week's opposition. 1. Most of the Texans talk in Dallas has centered around J.J. Watt, and rightfully so. Just how much does he mean to this team, from the field to the locker room, and everything else?*
Bill O'Brien said it best yesterday, "I don't know what else you can say about J.J. He means so much to our team, to our locker room."
Everyone knows about Watt's work ethic. He showed up at the team facility at 3 a.m. after signing his contract extension. He wanted to start earning his money. There are countless stories of him connecting with children, military members, and fans in the community. He always tries to sign fan jerseys of his, saying he feels obligated to do so since someone spent so much money on his jersey, as opposed to anyone else's.
He organizes an annual softball event for his charity, The J.J. Watt Foundation, which helps fund middle school athletic programs across Texas and his home state of Wisconsin. Every single player comes to that softball game, even the ones who aren't on a team. It bonds the players, new and old. These are only a few examples, but Watt has definitely endeared himself to the organizations, the fans and the city of Houston.
2. Much of the Cowboys' success so far can be attributed to the success of the running game and the improved play by the defense. What are the biggest reasons for Houston's hot start?A number of reasons are helping the Texans this year, players like Brian Cushing, Arian Foster, etc., returning from injuries, improved special teams performances, dynamic play-calling. However, forcing turnovers, especially in the red zone, has been a huge factor even when the offense has been sluggish.
The Texans currently lead the NFL with seven forced fumbled through the first four games. They've recovered five of those fumbles, with four coming at or inside Houston's own 10-yard line. Three of the Texans' four interceptions have come at or inside their own 20.
Through the first two games, Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't throw an interception and Arian Foster had back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances, but that hasn't been the case in the last two weeks. In Week 4,
Watt's third quarter pick-six completely shifted the momentum of the game for Houston, who was trailing the entire game up until that point.* *
3. Arian Foster has been a key cog in Houston's offense for several years now, and he was off to another good start before he injured his hamstring. How does the Texans' attack change if he can't go, or is limited, this weekend?
If Arian can't go, Houston will look to rookie Alfred Blue, an LSU product, to step in. He did so against the Giants in Week 3 and had a nice debut with 78 yards rushing. He also blocked a punt in Week 1 against Washington and returned it for a touchdown. The Texans also have Jonathan Grimes on the active roster. He was picked up late last season and started in the final game against Tennessee. [embedded_ad]
4. It's early, but the Texans' record is already better in Week 5 than it was last season. What's the vibe around this team right now – from players, coaches, fans and media?
Players and coaches are obviously tempering their excitement, but everyone is happy to be done with the 2013 season. Big plays like the ones by Watt, scoring on offense and defense, have made this team exciting to watch again for fans. There is a lot more to look forward to with Jadeveon Clowney's return on the horizon and with Houston currently leading the AFC South at 3-1.