TEXANS VS. COWBOYS PREVIEW
Written by: Richard Walker
Date posted: 8/27/2013
As we get closer to the NFL regular season, we cannot help but ignore the huge “white elephant in the room” in Thursday night’s match-up of Texans vs. Cowboys in the pre-season finale. There’s no denying that in the Lone Star State, without question… warmer temperatures, more barbeques, and the heated Interstate 45 rivalry between the franchises and fans of the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys will be on deck during this game, despite the fact that both teams are expected to see limited action from the starters. With that in mind, I want to take a moment to objectively compare and contrast both franchises:
Team Owner – Advantage Cowboys
Cowboys talking points: Without question, there is no comparison to the marketing/operations machine that is the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones has managed to consistently weather the storm of the team not meeting expectations on the field, and the simple fact is that whether it is love or hate, EVERYONE has an opinion about the Dallas Cowboys and will tune in whenever they are on the field or making moves off the field. Last season, the Cowboys were once again, as they are EVERY year, one of the most-watched teams in the NFL, including the top two rated games of the season – both against the Redskins. Their last game of the season shattered the NFL regular-season ratings record with 30.3 million viewers. Obviously, it was the No. 1 watched game of the entire season but the second spot went to the Cowboys-Redskins game on Thanksgiving with 28.7 million viewers. The Cowboys played in four of the top six viewed games last year and 6 of the top 25 rated games of the season. The Cowboys still own the most attractive and advanced stadium in the league, and with a franchise valuation of $2.1 billion (according to Forbes Magazine) the operations side of the business is second to none in the league.
Texans talking points: Bob McNair is the fastest emerging owner in the NFL. The Texans have acquired the rights to host the Super Bowl in 2017; are featuring new upgrades to Reliant Stadium, which includes the largest display board in sports; and will see more media coverage and prime time games this season. McNair is emerging from the shadow of big brother Jerry in
and is creating a
culture and making a mark on the league for his own franchise and seemingly the
fan base has moved on from the legacy of the Oilers and are energized and
excited about what the future holds for this team. They appear to be headed in
the right direction with consecutive playoff appearances and wild card
victories. Only time will tell, if they can emerge as one of the league’s elite
franchise operations Dallas
Texans talking points: General Manager Rick Smith has done a phenomenal job of first and foremost cleaning up the remnants of the Charlie Casserly era. He focused on stockpiling picks and then getting value from those picks, as their post-draft attrition was a key reason for the futility under the Casserly/Dom Capers era. Smith also acquired free agent gems, the most notable is undrafted running back, Arian Foster, who emerged into a premier back in the league. Smith also acquired the polarizing but effective quarterback Matt Schaub, and in my opinion for a minimal cost (two 2nd round draft picks and a 1st round swap with
Those two acquisitions were key success factors in the Texans emerging into a
playoff team. This year he has acquired two key free agents: veteran safety Ed
Reed and powerful legged punter Shane Lechler, both of whom I expect to have a
significant impact in their respective positions. 1st round draft
pick WR DeAndre Hopkins has already displayed flashes of brilliance and appears
to be far ahead of expectations and perhaps is the first legitimate second
wide receiver to accompany Andre Johnson. Atlanta
The bright spot in recent history: The Cowboys 2011 draft/undrafted free agent signings – T Tyron Smith, LB Bruce Carter, RB DeMarco Murray, and K Dan Bailey are potential Pro Bowl players at their respective position and are all performing at a very high level when healthy. RB Phillip Tanner, C/G Kevin Kowalski, and WR Dwayne Harris are solid contributors who will add depth for years to come. Their past 3 first round picks (Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Maurice Claiborne) are all solid, and in all likelihood will be pro bowlers soon. The jury is already out on this year’s pick C Travis Frederick, who has performed well so far as the starting center in pre-season action. Rookie draft picks Terrance Williams, Gavin Escobar, JJ Wilcox, and B.W. Webb are all players who have huge risk/reward potential and only time will tell if Jerry’s aggressive approach to drafting offensive talent will pay dividends.
Coaching Staff – Slight edge to
Both head coaches, ironically both career backups behind legendary quarterbacks as players, are under very close scrutiny by their respective fan bases. Both have literally made very poor decisions in critical moments that has cost their teams opportunities to secure wins. Both head coaches seem to be repetitive by nature and lack the “fire” and testicular fortitude to make the tough decisions and have made conservative decisions during the moments when risks need to be taken.
Jason Garrett has no more time or excuses. He absolutely has to deliver, at minimum a playoff berth and at least one playoff victory to retain his employment as coach…either a wild card berth and a win, or a bye and a victory in the NFC Division playoffs. If he fails to deliver, then Jerry Jones will have no choice than to move in another direction. The pressure could actually help Jason because in previous years he’s had the security of knowing that he did not have to worry about his future. New additions to the coaching staff include legendary/future Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and former Raiders Super Bowl Head Coach Bill Callahan as offensive coordinator, who has relieved Garrett of play-calling duties. These two tenured coaches bring experience that Garrett can draw upon and at the same time pressure to perform, as either of them could be promoted to replace him if he fails to meet expectations. Callahan is a specialist in offensive lines and quarterbacks and was the driver of the Rich Gannon emergence late in his career, and he hopes to do the same with Tony Romo. I expect Callahan to help with the offensive penalty problem that has plagued the Cowboys for years under Garrett, and the pass and run blocking should be significantly improved. Kiffin will bring an aggressive style to an already talented Cowboys defense. His mantra is simple – speed over size, prevent scores instead of preventing yardage, create turnovers, and give the offense multiple defensive approaches with just about the same look pre-snap. Defensive end, Anthony Spencer, will probably benefit the most of any player in Kiffin’s system.
Texans talking points: Wade Phillips is a defensive design specialist who gets the most out of his players (did anyone notice that I mentioned him before Gary Kubiak? LOL) Special teams coach, Joe Marciano, should have been fired 6 years ago. Gary Kubiak has shown consistently that he struggles to adjust, especially when his schemes are not working, and when the team has to improvise . When the game does not go according to his plan he is dually vulnerable:
A) he seems to have a pattern of making decisions that are too conservative that actually lead to even bigger problems. Passing the ball consistently on 3rd and short when you have one of the best backs and offensive lines in the league just baffles me.
B) Kubiak also does not seem to get the most out of his personnel, including coaches and players. Offensive coordinator, Rick Dennison (some fans didn’t even know that they had an offensive coordinator) is a key example of that. Dennison was the Broncos offensive coordinator from 2006-2008…he was courted by at least a handful of teams this past off-season as a possible head coaching candidate…so why is it that this guy seemingly does not have much say in the offense, and specifically, why isn’t he the one calling plays in the red zone and short yardage situations, which is an area that Kubiak has clearly struggled?
Cowboys talking points: Tony Romo is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league, and he has additional weapons around him. He has an offensive coach (Callahan) who greatly understands the quarterback position and even more importantly knows the value of an effective offensive line to protect him and open lanes for the running game. There “should” be less pressure on Romo to be in positions where he is relied upon to make critical plays, and a relaxed Romo with an effective running game has performed on par with some of the best quarterbacks in the league. If Tony Romo gets injured, Kyle Orton is a solid veteran who can win games and has post season experience.
Texans talking points: Matt Schaub does not possess the physical tools of an elite player; however, he is not nearly as bad as many make him out to be. Schaub has shown that he can in fact, make plays on the run (when that is scripted and executed), and although he does not nearly have a cannon for an arm, he can get the ball downfield far enough to stretch the defense a bit and make some big plays (again, this has to be scripted and executed). What Schaub is lacking is the ability to execute when things do not go his way. If the Texans are going to continue to be successful with Schaub at the helm, the need to make absolutely certain that he is not relied upon to be “the hero”. Arian Foster is the barometer of Schaub’s performance. If Foster isn’t running the ball well, then in all likelihood, Schaub will have a sub-par passing game because that means that he will see more plays where he is required to attempt to stretch the defense, and that just is not one of his strong skill sets. If Schaub is injured this team is completely different. Regardless of the fanfare in the backup position battle, to be frank, there is little NFL-ready depth behind Schaub. If Matt goes down for an extended period of time, the Texans are NO LONGER a playoff team. Case Keenum may be popular with the fans, but realistically speaking you cannot expect him to fill Schaub’s void consistently if called upon. While he has performed well in his limited sample in the preseason and training camp, let’s remember that he did not face many complicated schemes at UH and still has to learn how to read complex defensive packages. TJ Yates is a very limited quarterback….he kind of reminds me of a Brad Johnson/Trent Dilfer type of guy…nothing spectacular but serviceable. I expect at some point this season for Case to overtake him as the backup, which means they’ll make a decision on his future with the organization at the end of the season.
Cowboys talking points: A healthy DeMarco Murray is now partnered with Phillip Tanner, who has shown that he can be a consistent between the tackles runner and an excellent pass blocker, the explosive and the rookie, RB Joseph Randle. As I mentioned earlier, having an offensive line specialist like Bill Callahan will help this group tremendously. Expect to see better run blocking this year, which should equate to improved performance by this group. Lance Dunbar will see limited action, as he will make the roster to handle special teams duties, but if injuries pile up or
Texans talking points: Arian Foster is still one of the top running backs in the league; however, the gap between the two teams at this particular position is much closer than it appears on paper. Ben Tate is still a huge question mark in my opinion. He’s in a contract year and injuries and his performance this season will determine whether or not he remains as a Texan. Behind Tate there is a “hodge-podge” of undrafted free agent backs, all with different skill sets, but none that have shown the ability to emerge from the shadows and become a regular rotation player. Foster has to stay healthy this year for the Texans to have a shot, simply put. Fullback Greg Jones is a solid veteran addition that will help with second level blocking. While of course he is not “Vonta Leach”, he will help with blocking on the edge, especially in short yardage and the "red zone", which was an area of opportunity last year, and he is an excellent pass blocker as well.
Receivers/Tight Ends – Even
Cowboys talking points: Dez Bryant is emerging into one of the best receivers in the game. Last year he was a Pro Bowl snub, but expect no less of a performance this year. He proved that he can take over games and come up huge in the clutch (even if it’s just a fingernail over the line…lol). Miles Austin is back and when healthy he is still a great option. I expect him to play looser now that he is no longer expected to be the #1 guy, and he may move to slot if Terrance Williams can emerge as the deep threat that the Cowboys were hoping for when he was drafted. Jason Witten is almost as certain as death and taxes, I don’t think that I even have to comment on what he brings to the team. TE Gavin Escobar is a very interesting draft pick, as he had some of the best hands in college football, and Romo now has another reliable short range target besides Jason Witten. I expect to see some two TE formations similar to what
New England ran with Aaron Hernandez
and Rob Gronkowski. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley are not guys who will just sit
on the depth chart. Both of these guys displayed “grit” and can make plays.
Texans talking points: Andre Johnson is still one of the best receivers in the league, and perhaps has set the stage for a future with the WWE or UFC after the legendary beatdown of Cortland Finnegan that still has fans across the league laughing. Owen Daniels is still a reliable check-down option for Schaub (who isn’t shy about checking down…lol), and rookie DeAndre Hopkins is in all likelihood the #2 receiver that the Texans have been needing for years. After you pass up those three guys on the depth chart, the drop off is significant. Keyshawn Martin has potential and has shown flashes, but that alone does not win football games. His consistency is the question. Expect a season-long position battle between Martin and DeVier Posey for the #3 WR position. The X factor could also be a free agent acquisition that pushes both guys down the depth chart (whispering “Brandon Lloyd” under my breath).
Offensive Line – Huge Advantage Texans
Cowboys talking points: Tyron Smith is a solid tackle and could be a pro bowler this season…(takes another sip of Vodka) besides him, the rest of the line is a HUGE question mark. Doug Free is the weakest link of the unit. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out this season. He played almost as if he was on the opposing team’s payroll last season. His “matador” blocking style just isn’t going to work this season. Travis Frederick will start the season at center, but don’t be surprised if he is moved to guard if that side of the line does not improve its performance. This year’s draft was a huge opportunity to address that need, and it remains to see if Jerry’s risk is going to pay off. I expect the Cowboys to rely more on physicality instead of athleticism, as this line has huge guys on it, but the question of whether or not they can find a way to make this unit work in unison is still in the air.
Texans talking points: Duane Brown is arguably the best tackle in football and is getting better. The only question in this group is right guard, and depth in case of injury. Rookie David Quesenberry appears to be getting comfortable in this system. Derek Newton is a question mark, as he had health concerns which seem to be better, but he just doesn’t seem to get off the ball quickly and consistently, which in this zone blocking scheme is critical, since the blockers are focused on filling space instead of attacking man assignments.
Defensive Line – Slight Advantage Texans
Texans talking points: You may have heard of some guy named J.J. Watt….he’s pretty good…who am I kidding this guy is an absolute HELL RAISER….20.5 sacks last season. A historical season, and an offensive coordinator’s nightmare. Expect extra attention to be paid to him this season, which will mean lower numbers, but Watt is perhaps just as effective when he doesn’t get the passer. Antonio Smith is a solid 7 or 8 sacks to compliment Watt. DT Earl Mitchell could help these guys by getting some pressure up the middle.
Cowboys talking points: Jay Ratliff is a big body that requires double team blocks, but it’s going to be interesting to see how he fits in a 4-3 scheme under Kiffin. DeMarcus Ware will return to the line as a “hand on the ground” defensive end along with Anthony Spencer, and a combination of Jason Hatcher and Ratliff at defensive tackle. If these two (Ware and Spencer) are given the ability to primarily focus on attacking the quarterback then this unit can become one of the best D lines in football. I expect to see some movement externally to build depth at the DT position, and the names Casey Hampton, a
native who is still a free agent and
Rocky Bernard come to mind. DE depth may also be addressed, and if there is not
an improvement in pass rushing expect some free agents’ like Mark Anderson’s phone
to ring, as they can easily flex Ware back to an OLB position in situations and
bring a guy like Anderson off the ball to hunt quarterbacks and create edge
pressure. Jason Hatcher is the guy to watch, as he's going to turn some heads in
Kiffin’s system. DE George Selvie has looked BRILLIANT in pre-season action and
if he is able to play at this level consistently expect to see him on the field
more often. Texas
Texans talking points: Brian Cushing is coming off of injury, and of course this guy is an absolute workhorse and a fierce competitor, but realistically don’t expect him to come out right away and be the guy he was before the injury. Whitney Mercilus is solid and his production should increase with Cushing back to help. Brooks Reed had a disappointing season last year. Something big has to happen with this group. Does anyone remember which group was targeted the most by
Green Bay and New
England’s offense, as the games were huge blowouts?
Cowboys talking points: I refer to Sean Lee and Bruce Carter as “Team Rush Hour”, and that’s a very good thing in Kiffin’s system. These two guys pursue the football from sideline to sideline, just as well as anyone in the business. The Cowboys defense literally lost a touchdown in production without the pair on the field (22.2ppg allowed vs. 29.3ppg allowed with both injured). Ernie Sims and Justin Durant add veteran depth to this group and young talented LB Alex Albright will compete for an outside job in this system.
Cowboys talking points: Brandon Carr is a Pro Bowl CB, and makes big plays (he single handedly beat
last season). Maurice Claiborne started slow, but picked up as the season went
on and was doing great before injury last season. Gerald Sensabaugh is gone and I don’t expect to see any fans wearing his jersey
and burning candles in his memory. J.J. Wilcox is a hard hitting ball hog who
could likely challenge Will Allen to start at safety as the season wears on.
B.W. Webb can do the same at nickel and will push Orlando Scandrick and
Sterling Moore for that position. Unless their DB’s are the best kept secret in
the league, the Cowboys should be very concerned if there are major injuries to
Carr and Claiborne. Barry Church will start at safety, but don’t be surprised if
Wilcox takes his job. Will Allen is a solid veteran who brings both experience
and leadership to this group, and he will be starting at strong safety. Pittsburgh
Texans talking points: Ed Reed is still a beast folks. He is a calculated player who changes the tempo of a game by making key plays and turnovers in critical moments. He still has the talent to compete at a high level, and of course, the leadership that he brings to the locker room to an emerging team is huge. I think the Texans are going to be very happy with this acquisition. Jonathan Joseph is a solid corner who can shut down most receivers, but he can be beat by bigger, fast receivers. Expect him to earn his money this season, as he will be matched up with key opposing players such as Anquan Boldin (again), Dwayne Bowe, Reggie Wayne, and Larry Fitzgerald this season. Kareem Jackson is solid, but will miss Glover Quinn’s ability to help over the top, since Reed and D. Manning don’t have that kind of range. D. J. Swearinger is a scrappy “bell-ringer” and the fans are going to love to see him punish opposing receivers. He will continue to learn and grow and I expect to see him in specialty packages this season and this kid is not afraid to help out in the box as well. Shiloh Keo has been improving as well, so expect him and Swearinger to compete and possibly run the position by committee until Reed returns.
Special Teams – Advantage Cowboys
Cowboys talking points: Dan Bailey is very close to being a pro bowl kicker. Very accurate and he has improved his range. New special teams coach
I don’t see any logical reason why Marciano is still on the Texans’ payroll. The unit had an embarrassing season last year.