The Houston Texans comes to Dallas for a weekend matchup of 3-1 teams who sit atop their division in the standings.
While the group of teams Houston has played is suspect, there are a few reasons for Cowboys fans to expect a loss Sunday (or read a more optimistic look here).
1. J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt is arguably the best player in the National Football League today. He is the most productive 3-4 end in the league according to Pro Football Focus, already notching 17 pressures on the season.
Watt is listed as a 5-technique, but his versatility makes him a nightmare for offenses to account for. He’s strong enough to hold the point of attack between the offensive guards, fast enough to run the arc as a 7-technique (typical edge rusher) and athletic enough to drop and cover a tight end. Houston can line Watt up anywhere on the defensive line and he’ll give the Cowboys trouble.
Dallas has had the most success running the ball behind the left side of their offensive line, but even elite LT Tyron Smith will struggle against Watt. Their best bet offensively will probably be outside and stretch zone runs away from him.
"[Watt] may be the best player we play all year," Romo said Wednesday.
2. DeAndre Hopkins
Houston is a surprisingly efficient passing team, which can be attributed to the emergence of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Pass catchers tend to require a year or two in the league before beginning to reach their potential, and Hopkins’ emergence has helped Houston become the 7th most efficient passing team according to Football Outsiders. Dallas will have to devote safety help to help keep him in check.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t flashy, but he is fourth in the NFL in Net Yards per Attempt with 7.68. His 5 interceptions are the only thing prevent him from being one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league so far. If he doesn’t turn the ball over Sunday, his team should score enough to give them a chance to win.
Because of running back Ben Tate’s departure and Arian Foster’s injuries, the Texans are not very good at running the ball. They’re fortunate to face a bad Cowboys run defense ranked 5th worst in the NFL giving up more than 5 yards per rush, though. Much like Dallas’ defense matched up well against New Orleans’ offense last week, Houston’s offense matches up relatively well with Dallas’ defense.
3. Houston’s Active Secondary
The Cowboys go from playing one of the worst teams at forcing turnovers to one of the best.
Houston is tied for the league lead with 9 takeaways in only 4 games so far this season. They’ve intercepted four passes and have forced a league-leading 7 fumbles (recovering 5).
Other than Watt, the secondary is the main strength of this defense. They’re responsible for all 7 forced fumbles and two of the interceptions. Oddly, the defensive line is responsible for the other two interceptions and 0 forced fumbles.
Houston is tied with Seattle for 6th in fewest yards per attempt at 6.5. Quarterback Rating is not a good stat to evaluate how well a quarterback plays, but it is fairly good at showing how efficiently a team passes the ball. Houston's defensive Quarterback Rating 83.5, 7th best in the NFL.
Overall, the Texans disguise coverage fairly well and they attack the ball. If quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray protecting the ball against New Orleans was a fluke, Houston could win the turnover battle and sneak out of Dallas with a win.