It's an in-state battle featuring the most popular sports franchise in North American sports, the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans. While the Dallas Cowboys haven't played for a chance to win Lombardi Trophy number six, the Houston Texans haven't found much success either since their inception in 2002. Though they may have much different histories, the level of success each has attained since the turn of the millennium is eerily similar. The Dallas Cowboys haven't reached the NFC Championship Game since the last time they won a Super Bowl after the 1995 season. The Houston Texans haven't reached an AFC Championship Game in their 16 year history heading into 2018.
Both teams came into the 2018 season with high expectations, and yet, both have floundered in the first month of the season. The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a win that evened their record at 2-2 when they beat the Detroit Lions on a last second field goal attempt by rookie Kicker Brett Maher. Similarly, the Houston Texans won their matchup with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday with a game winning field goal in overtime. For the Texans, however, it was their first win of the season.
After just four games, the expectations for these two Texas clubs have dropped off considerably as neither is seen as a playoff contender at this point in the season.
A win on Sunday could catapult either team toward a run at playoff contention.
This is only the fourth regular season meeting between Texas' two NFL teams. The Dallas Cowboys hold an all-time edge in the series, 3-1, winning the last three meetings after the Houston Texans beat the Cowboys in their first game as a franchise back in 2002.
In the two games with Jason Garrett as either the offensive coordinator (2010) or head coach (2014), the Dallas Cowboys averaged 23.5 points per game on offense. The 2010 game would be the only win that former Head Coach Wade Phillips would record in that season before being fired after losing six straight.
Check out Inside The Star Staff Writer Kevin Brady's Cowboys vs Texans Betting Trends for more historical data heading into the week five matchup.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Over Deshaun Watson's last nine games, he's averaged 302 passing yards, thrown 2.77 passing touchdowns, while completing 62% of his passes. If you were to stretch that pace out over the course of a 16 game season those numbers would look like this: 4,832 yards passing, 44 passing touchdowns, and 20 interceptions.
No quarterback who has dropped back to pass at least 100 times has been pressured as often as Watson's 47.3% pressured rate. So nearly every other time that Deshaun Watson drops back to pass, he's pressured. Only Buffalo Bills rookie Quarterback Josh Allen's been sacked more times than Watson's 17. That should bode well for DeMarcus Lawrence and company.
Though Watson's been under pressure a lot, it doesn't always phase him as he has the ninth highest passer rating in the NFL when under pressure at 82.1.
Through the first four games of the 2018 season, Watson's throwing on average an interception per game. In his 11 game career, he's thrown 12 interceptions. Sounds like a good week for the Dallas Cowboys to get their first interception.
In looking at his passing charts through four weeks as provided by Pro Football Focus, the majority of his success has come throwing to the middle of the field. He's had a lot of success throwing to the deep middle, which could be where the Houston Texans try to exploit the Dallas Cowboys defense. Last week, against the Indianapolis Colts, Watson was able to win for big gains down the right side of the field and unless Kris Richard and the Dallas secondary can rebound on that side of the field, it could be another area of weakness for the Cowboys defense.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott had his best game of the season last week against the Detroit Lions. He three for 255 yards while completing 63% of his passes for two touchdowns and finished with a quarterback rating of 118.6.
More importantly, for the first time in a long time, Prescott looked poised and confident completing several big passes down the sidelines; one to rookie Michael Gallup early in the game and the clincher to Ezekiel Elliott on the fourth quarter drive that set up the game winning field goal.
On passes 10 or more yards down the field, Prescott was 5/8 for 115 yards and a touchdown. That doesn't include the big catch and run on the screen play to Ezekiel Elliott.
Prescott looked like the quarterback we saw through his first 24 games. If he can keep up this play, he will silence all the doubters in route to a big-time contract in the 2019 offseason.
The Running Game
The Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys have reasserted themselves as one of the best running games in the NFL after four games. Elliott leads the league in rushing by nearly 100 yards. He leads the league in yards after contact and is third in the NFL in yards after contact per attempt.
Elliott also ranks third in the NFL in breakaway percentage, with 50.7% of his runs going for 15 yards or more, per Pro Football Focus. Elliott has the most runs of 15 yards or more this season with 10. The next closest are Matt Breida of the San Francisco 49ers and Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers -- still weird typing that -- with six.
The Houston Texans
Lamar Miller is leading the Texans in rushing with 225 yards this season, which is 14th in the NFL. His 3.9 yards per attempts is also 14th in the NFL and he hasn't scored a touchdown this season. In yards after contact per attempt, Miller ranks 24th.
Alfred Blue has been slightly better than Miller in fewer attempts this season. He has a better yards per attempt, a better yards after contact per attempt, and has scored the only rushing touchdown by a running back for the Texans in 2018.
The Wide Receivers
The Houston Texans
If there is a place that the Texans have the most sizeable advantage it's in the weapons they have on the outside. The Texans are able to roll out DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Bruce Ellington, and Keke Coutee when they go to 11 and 10 personnel groupings and all four of those guys could be starters or have sizeable roles for the Dallas Cowboys.
DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Yes, he's up there with Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. He's finally getting to play with a good quarterback and you can see how that's helping him. He's fifth in the NFL in receiving yards and has two touchdown receptions on the season. DeAndre Hopkins may find himself matched up against Anthony Brown on Sunday since he lines up in the slot on nearly a quarter of his snaps.
Fellow wide receiver, Will Fuller, is tied for fourth in the NFL with three touchdown receptions and has 263 yards receiving this season.
Both Hopkins and Fuller are averaging more than 14 yards per reception.
Keke Coutee broke out in week four, recording all 11 receptions he has on the season for 109 yards including 96 yards after catch. He's going to be an assignment that could give the linebackers trouble underneath on Sunday.
The Dallas Cowboys
Aside from Cole Beasley, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really received -- pun intended -- consistent production from their wide receiver group. Beasley's leading the team in yards and receptions. Only Ezekiel Elliott and Geoff Swaim have at least 10 receptions on the season and more than 100 receiving yards. That's how sparse the WR production has been.
Michael Gallup showed up in a big way on Sunday vs the Detroit Lions when he came up with a big play in the first quarter, but his 41.7% reception rate is the lowest on the Dallas Cowboys.
Tavon Austin has been an X-Factor with his ability to run the jet sweep and get down field on "go" routes, but his playing time hasn't been nearly enough. The coaching staff is limiting how much of an impact he can have on the game by keeping him off the field. His snap count continues to trend in the right direction. Sunday's 25% snap share was higher than any other game Tavon's played this season.
Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns have had some solid moments. Thompson is second on the team in first down receptions, but hasn't provided much else. Hurns has been a disappointment. He had a drop on what would have been a crucial first down reception on Sunday.
The Dallas Cowboys are ranked higher than the Houston Texans in most defensive categories heading into week five.
Where the Houston Texans defense has been better is against the run and in forcing turnovers. The Texans have forced five turnovers in the first four games, while the Dallas Cowboys have forced two.
Against the run, the Texans are allowing only 3.5 yards per attempt. The Cowboys are allowing 3.6 yards per attempt. Both are top five in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys pass defense is seventh in passing yards against, 10th in passing TDs allowed, and is third in sacks. The Houston Texans have allowed the sixth most passing yards, third most passing touchdowns, and are tied for ninth in the NFL in sacks. The Texans have only intercepted one pass in the 2018 season.
Both the Texans and the Cowboys are allowing opposing offenses to convert on third down at just over 44% of the time.
Opposing offenses are coming away with points on trips to the red zone 78.6% of the time against the Texans compared to 54.5% of the time against the Dallas Cowboys.
Brett Maher, Dallas Cowboys
- 8/9 on field goal attempts, including 1/1 on attempts greater than 50 yards, and a game winning field goal, and 5/5 on extra point attempts.
Ka'imi Fairbairn, Houston Texans
- 9/11 on field goal attempts, 1/3 on attempts greater than 50 yards, and has a game winning field goal in overtime, and is 9/9 on extra point attempts.
Chris Jones, Dallas Cowboys
- 46.1 yards per punt, net of 40.2 (tied for 15th in the NFL), and has put only five punts inside the 20 yard line, which is tied for 26th in the league.
Trevor Daniel, Houston Texans
- Averaging 42 yards per punt, net of 39 (29th in the NFL), but has put 11 punts inside the 20, which is good for 7th in the league.
Running Back Tyler Ervin is the Houston Texans primary return man on both kickoffs and punts. He's averaging 9.9 yards per punt return and 25.3 yards per kickoff return. That 25.3 yards per kickoff return leads the league.
Tavon Austin has been the only Cowboys player to return a punt this year, but he's only averaging 4.7 yards per return on his punts. Any good returns he's had have been negated by penalties. Deonte Thompson has mainly handled the kick return duties and is averaging 24.5 yards per return.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys are pretty evenly matched on paper and it should be a close game on Sunday.
For the Cowboys, the key to the game will be how well they're defense will be able to contain Deshaun Watson and the passing game. When they get opportunities to make plays on Watson or the ball when he's under pressure, they'll need to take advantage of it.
On offense, Dak Prescott and the passing game will have to be able to exploit the Texans pass defense that is allowing 288 passing yards and 2.75 passing touchdowns per game.
For the Texans, they'll have to contain the Dallas Cowboys running game with the same effectiveness they have been in 2018 so that the Dallas Cowboys aren't able to use play action with as much efficiency.
On offense, they'll need to keep Deshaun Watson clean and make plays when he's under pressure, because he's going to be under pressure.
Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
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