FRISCO, Texas – As always, I'll have more to say once I've watched the tape. For now, here are my initial reactions from the Cowboys' loss to Houston on Sunday night.
· The Cowboys were short-handed at defensive tackle. David Irving's off-the-field issues and Maliek Collins' knee injury put this defense in a difficult spot. The rotation was going to be limited due to the lack of numbers, but give Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford and Daniel Ross a ton of credit. Not only did they limit the Texans running game with Alfred Blue, but they made life difficult for Deshaun Watson. As a group they were tremendous, not only getting up the field but chasing plays outside the tackle box the entire night.
· All you need to know is that the Cowboys' wide receivers ended the game with seven total receptions against a Texans secondary that had been getting torched by opponents. I am not saying that Dez Bryant is the answer, but if your entire group has that many total catches, you're not going to move the ball offensively and you're not going to win many games.
· I was one of those people that said Ezekiel Elliott would be fine after the game last week against the Lions, but something didn't look right with him carrying the ball this evening. The training staff here would never put an injured player on the field, but the wear and tear of last week's work coupled with the hard hitting nature of this Texans defense appeared to take its toll on him. He just didn't have that burst we normally see from him. There was also a time where he was able to make that first man miss and then still stumble for a positive gain. Don't get me wrong: the Texans are hard to run the ball on, but they appeared to have caught a break with a banged up Ezekiel Elliott.
· Nice to see Geoff Swaim get involved in the passing game. He's had to do so much blocking at the point of attack that I was worried that he would be worn down and never get a chance to play to his real strength as a pass catcher. They've asked him to do entirely too much blocking, but he gives you everything he has in that area. It was a nifty play design having him in 12 personnel helping on the edge, then floating into the flat on the "Y" delay. The play was well-executed by Dak Prescott, buying Swaim just enough time to pull it off. The run after catch by Swaim was impressive, as well.
· I don't know what Xavier Woods could have done any different on the snap where he was called for hitting Keke Coutee as a defenseless receiver. Woods had no choice but to try and knock the ball loose as Coutee was coming down with it. The only way the ball was going to come out is if he put his head and shoulder into Coutee -- which he did. I understand protecting these players, but that appeared to be just a good old fashioned, hard-nosed football play.
· Tavon Austin is not a big guy, so throwing him "in" routes is probably not the best idea, especially if the ball is a little high. I felt like he ran a good route and I will need to check this on the film, but I didn't feel like Prescott gave him a chance with his throw. There are those that will say that the ball hit Austin's hands and should have been caught, but if the pass is lower, then Austin has a chance for a big play on the catch and run. Instead, it winds up as an interception. I will be interested to study the play further.
· The Texans were scoring at just 60 percent in goal-to-go situations this season, so Bill O'Brien's offense has clearly had some issues. The league average is right at 80 percent. On the goal line stand before the half, there was some outstanding coverage by the Dallas secondary that kept the Texans out of the end zone. Deshaun Watson tried to get the ball to DeAndre Hopkins on two different occasions but Hopkins couldn't score. It appeared on fourth down that Watson wanted to go to Hopkins again, but Byron Jones gave him absolutely no room. That forced Watson to try and score the touchdown on foot and Jaylon Smith was able to clean up.
· Anthony Brown didn't have that great of a game as a tackler, but his play to rip the ball out of DeAndre Hopkins' hands and force a fumble was huge. As Hopkins received the ball, I would have bet that he was going to get that first down, but to Brown's credit he was able to push Hopkins back up the field and away from the first down marker. Even if Hopkins makes that catch, he would have been short of the first down and the Texans would have had to punt. Instead, Brown knocked it loose and Jourdan Lewis was right on the spot for the recovery. The offense was able to take that short field opportunity for some points.
· Speaking of those points after DeAndre Hopkins' turnover. What a creative play call by Scott Linehan to set up the touchdown to Allen Hurns. Faking the toss right to Tavon Austin drew the Texans' defense from the middle of the field, giving Hurns playing of room to work inside. It was a nice job by Hurns to also set up the route by faking as if he was blocking on the play. The route opened up nicely after all the ball handling from Dak Prescott.
· Killer holding call on Connor Williams to take away some momentum at the end of the third quarter. Elliott started the drive with a 12-yard run and followed that up with 15 more yards, but it appeared that Williams got his hands outside of the framework of the defender and then took him to the ground. The offense had a chance to climb out of the hole, but Prescott was forced to scramble to his right and fired a low ball toward Deonte Thompson low but he was unable to make the reception and they were forced to punt.
· Bad sequence of offensive plays after Dak Prescott somehow managed to escape J.J. Watt and find Tavon Austin 44 yards down the field. First, Ezekiel Elliott lost four yards. Then, we saw an incomplete pass to Michael Gallup and a screen pass to Elliott, who got tripped up in the flat by Bnardrick McKinney after a five-yard gain. Instead of taking advantage of a miracle play by Prescott, the offense went nowhere and was forced to settle for a field goal.
· This is my opinion and my opinion only, but I would have taken my chances in overtime on that fourth down call in which Jason Garrett elected to punt. Maybe Garrett had visions once again of a linebacker not being blocked on the play? Zach Cunningham ruined a 3rd-and-short call by shooting through the gap and taking Ezekiel Elliott for no gain. Garrett, in the postgame, talked about pinning the Texans deep in their own end and trying to get a stop. His defense had been up to the challenge the majority of the night, but they allowed a huge play to DeAndre Hopkins with three missed tackles along the way. My thinking was that this offense is built on toughness, along with their ability to run the ball. I would much rather put it on the shoulders of Ezekiel Elliott and this offensive line. At least if I lose it that way they beat me at my strength.