Lone Star State teams tussle on "Sunday Night Football" looking to build off of last week's wins
Coming into Week 4, the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans had a 1-5 combined record. That lone win came from a 20-13 home victory for the Cowboys over the New York Giants back in Week 2. Otherwise, it had been a disastrous start to the 2018 season for both teams.
Newfound hope came in Week 4, however. First, it was the Cowboys pulling off an impressive two-minute drill in the fourth quarter to beat the Lions 26-24. The 38-yard field goal from Brett Maher as time expired served as an opportunity to right a previously sinking ship.
The Texans walked away victorious after a different set of circumstances, which included a poor decision by the Colts to go for it in overtime on 4th-and-four with the game tied at 34. That opened the door for second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson, who completed a 24-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins on the very next play. The result was a game-winning, 37-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn as time expired.
With the two teams from Texas set to face off on Sunday night, it’s only going to be possible for one of them to retain momentum once Week 5 comes to a close. So, which team will be it be?
Dallas at Houston
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 7 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Dallas -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Houston’s dominant trio of wide receivers
The Texans already had one of the better 1-2 punches at wide receiver in the league. DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller have already brought in 47 receptions for 706 yards and five touchdowns in only four games.
Now, it looks like there’s a third receiver ready to contribute consistently to the team’s high-powered passing attack. In his debut, rookie Keke Coutee was targeted early and often. In fact, his 15 targets were tied for the most in Week 4. The even better news is the Texas Tech product brought in 11 of them for 109 yards.
There’s still some concern that Hopkins won’t suit up due to a hamstring injury. Either way, expect Houston’s receivers to put a lot of pressure on a Dallas secondary that allowed Detroit’s receivers to combine for 15 receptions for 262 yards and two touchdowns last week.
2. DeMarcus Lawrence vs. Houston’s offensive tackles
Lawrence has quietly emerged as one of the NFL’s top edge rushers. The 26-year-old defensive end posted 58 tackles and 14.5 sacks in 2017. To some people’s surprise, he’s looked even better in 2018.
Lawrence already has 21 tackles and 5.5 sacks in only four games. If he can keep that pace up, he’ll shatter last year’s career high in both categories.
Sunday night should allow him the opportunity to build on those numbers. Houston’s offensive line has struggled to keep Deshaun Watson adequately protected this season. In four games, they’ve given up 17 sacks, which is the second most in the NFL behind the Buffalo Bills (21).
3. David Irving’s return from suspension
There’s only one player for Dallas that’s had as much of an impact getting after opposing quarterbacks as DeMarcus Lawrence. In only eight games last season, Irving racked up seven sacks. That ranked the defensive tackle near the top in the NFL in sacks per game.
The problem lies with Irving coming off his second four-game suspension in as many seasons for violating an NFL policy. In 2017, it was for performance-enhancing drugs. This season, it was due to violating the substance abuse policy.
It’s difficult to determine where he’s created the most headaches. Has it been for Dallas off the field or opposing offenses on it? Either way, his availability for Sunday night is going to mean more difficulty for Houston’s passing attack.
The difference in this game could come down to the trenches. Houston’s inability to keep Deshaun Watson upright is going to be a real problem when facing one of the top pass rushes in the NFL (14 total sacks this season).
Combine that with the return of David Irving, it’s easy to see why Watson could find himself under a lot of pressure on Sunday night. If there’s a silver lining for Houston, it is Irving’s struggles against the run. To combat that, he’ll probably be relegated to a rotational role in passing situations, but it’s still something to monitor.
The Cowboys’ two victories have both come at home (Giants and Lions) while both losses (Panthers and Seahawks) have been away from AT&T Stadium. That difference in splits is significant, but it’s still a small sample size. Going across the state to Houston isn’t the same thing as going to Carolina or Seattle.
If DeAndre Hopkins can suit up, the Texans will have a good chance of keeping this game close. With that said, Dallas is showing signs of turning its season around.
Prediction: Cowboys 26, Texans 20
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.