IRVING, Texas – Here are my keys to Sunday afternoon's all-Texas tilt against Houston.
We've talked a lot about J.J. Watt during the buildup to this game. But honestly, I think it's the Cowboys' pass rushers who have the biggest chance to make a statement and impact the outcome this weekend. Meanwhile, if the Texans are going to come out with a road win, I think it's all about – surprise, surprise – slowing down this Cowboys running game.
Cowboys Win If:
Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick likes to get rid of the ball quickly when he is in the pocket. What he is trying to accomplish here is to protect his offensive line, which tends to struggle in the ability to secure its blocks.
It's an offensive line that has more size than athletic ability, and there will be snaps where you see them having trouble moving their feet. You will see them give up pressure because of this. What I have also noticed about this offensive line, especially on their left side, is that tackle Duane Brown plays very soft in his pass sets. He plays so soft that there are plays where you see Fitzpatrick having to not only throw over the top of an oncoming rusher, but also Brown -- who has been into driven in his lap.
Brown is not the only player to struggle on this line. Guard Ben Jones has a very hard time adjusting to a rusher that plays with any type of quickness. The more movement he has to face, the harder it is for him to play with any type of balance, and he should be tested often in this game. Two weeks ago, the Giants were able to harass Fitzpatrick in the pocket, forcing him into completing less that 59 percent of his passes and forcing three interceptions -- which by far was his worse performance of the season.
Through four games this season this Cowboys defensive line has struggled to get sacks, but their pressure has been consistent. For them to win this game they will need to take a page out of that Giants game plan and knock Ryan Fitzpatrick around to the point he does not feel comfortable in the pocket at all.
Texans Win If [embedded_ad]
Under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, the Texans are a 3-4 defense that is very aggressive scheme-wise. We have heard all week about J.J. Watt and the problems he could present to this Cowboys offensive line with his disruptive play.
Crennel has to be aware of the rushing attack he is about to face and must guard against that. His answer to when teams try and spread him out and run the ball is to bring safety D.J. Swearinger down in the box like an extra linebacker and add Daniel Manning to the backend. If the Texans are able to limit Murray running the ball and put the Cowboys in some bad down and distance situations, especially on third down -- where the Texans are first in the league in getting off the field -- it will play right into their hands.
What makes the Texans so good in this area is their ability to put pressure on the quarterback with J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and Jared Crick, but they also deny the ball on the outside with Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson when they play press coverage. These Texans cornerbacks will get up on these Cowboys receivers and make them fight all day for space. How well these Cowboys receivers handle that will be a key in this game. The Cowboys offense is all about balance and if the Texans can get them out of that balance and make them a one dimensional team their chances for victory increase greatly.