FRISCO, Texas – Friday is here, so once again here is a look at the two biggest components that I think will determine the outcome of this Cowboys-Texans tilt.
Dallas Cowboys win if:
There is no secret that the offensive identity of the Cowboys is to run the ball. Opponents know this and prepare for it but still struggle to stop it. The Texans come into this matchup as one of the better run defenses in the league, especially on first down.
As a unit they've allowed an average of 3.45 yards per carry, which is a full yard better than league average. Their down linemen have some size to it and they pair that with a group of linebackers who are physical but also play well sideline to sideline. They make it difficult for the offense to move the ball along the ground. The Cowboys run the ball 54 percent of the time on first down. When they do that, they're managing 4-plus yards a carry, 49 percent of the time.
As good as the Texans are at playing the run, they've had their issues playing pass defense and that is surprising considering they have two of the best pass rushers in the league in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. It doesn't matter the down or distance, the Texans have struggled to play pass defense. Even when getting opponents into 3rd-and-long situations, they've allowed a conversion 36 percent of the time.
To win this game, I believe the Cowboys are going to need a game plan that was similar to the Giants game. Throw the ball on early downs and then mix in the run out of 11 personnel. Use the pass to set up run opportunities to keep the Texans off balance and hold their pass rush in check.
Houston Texans win if:
The Texans' biggest issue has been the offensive line. As a unit they've struggled with depth issues. Like the Cowboys they have had to shuffle some players around due to untimely injuries. Julie'n Davenport was the starter at left tackle against the Giants, then the following week Martinas Rankin was the starter. All three of the inside starters for the Texans have been on the injury report for one ailment or another during the season.
The Texans will have their hands full with the Cowboys' defensive line Sunday night, especially if they can't have success running the ball. These past two weeks have been difficult for them, facing the Giants and the Colts. The line just hasn't got the movement up front as they did in the first two weeks of the season.
If the Texans are going to win this game, they're going to need to run the football with some success. Their offensive line cannot allow this Cowboys pass rush tee off on Deshaun Watson down after down. As good as Watson has been, taking those shots does affect the way he throws the ball. I expect that we will see Bill O'Brien attempt to run the ball with Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. Both are quality backs and if given a little room to operate they can be affective.
O'Brien also knows that the Cowboys have been good on their run defense by holding opponents to under 4 yards a carry on 38 percent of their snaps. The Texans force will force the Cowboys to play nickel coverage with their scheme, so how well they run the ball against it will be the difference in this game. Keeping the Cowboys pass rush off Deshaun Watson is a must and successfully running the ball will help.