The Cowboys and Texans, two of the NFL’s most underachieving teams, both had something to prove when they met in Houston on Sunday night. Maybe that explains why this matchup turned into such a physical, hard-fought game (sorry, but we don’t buy the “but they’re geographic rivals battling for bragging rights” angle).
In the end, the Texans survived a tough Cowboys defense to claim a 19-16 overtime win to run their record to 2-3, the same as the Cowboys.
Here are three observations from the Texans’ big night.
Deshaun Watson has returned to elite level after injury
Deshaun Watson was putting up crazy statistics (19 TD passes in seven games) last season as a rookie before missing the final nine games due to a knee injury.
After a tentative start in the season opener against the Patriots, Watson has looked better and better the past four games. He completed 33 of 44 passes for 375 yards against the Cowboys, his third straight game with 375 or more yards. With the Texans’ ineffective run game, he had no choice but to air it out. For a young quarterback, Watson does a great job hanging in the pocket, patiently waiting for his receivers to get open. When you have a game-breaking receiver like DeAndre Hopkins (nine catches, 151 yards), that patience can pay off, as Watson showed in overtime when he found Hopkins on the play that won the game (thanks in large part to Hopkins’ elusive moves downfield).
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 8, 2018
Watson has already become one of those elite QB playmakers that can win a game himself, ala Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Which brings up a troubling observation about his running style.
Watson is a fearless runner … but needs to be more careful
Watson rushed 10 times for 40 yards against the Cowboys. Most of those runs were uneventful, but several ended in big collisions with defenders. Watson is fearless going for extra yardage. That is not always a good thing for a quarterback. Three times in the first half, Watson put his head down fighting for the goal line and took big hits from two or three Cowboys defenders. He did it once again in the second half, this time almost five yards away from the goal line. On a couple of these hits, it was easy to wonder, “Will Watson get up?” In fact, Watson went into the medical tent early in overtime for a quick check, and there was some speculation in the NBC broadcast booth and online wondering if he would be able to play in OT.
We like our quarterbacks to be fearless, but sometimes, it’s better to be cautious. Watson is simply too important to this team to get sidelined by a concussion or other injury fighting for an extra yard or two in an early season game.
What’s wrong with the Dallas offense, and can it be fixed?
No need to rehash the Cowboys’ previous offensive struggles here, but the team that entered the game near the bottom of the NFL in scoring and total offense looked out of synch much of the night against the Texans. Even worse, they looked predictable. Too often, Dak Prescott dumped off a short pass to Ezekiel Elliott that the defense immediately snuffed out (he had seven catches for 30 yards). When Elliott ran the ball, the Texans D was waiting (20 rushes, 54 yards).
When Prescott passed, he often dropped straight back, and right into the path of the Texans’ pass rush. The only times he seemed to roll out were out of necessity to escape pressure.
We know Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan can be creative, as the Cowboys showed on Prescott’s third-quarter touchdown pass to Allen Hurns that followed misdirection fakes to Tavon Austin and Elliott.
[email protected] to @A1hurns!
?: @snfonnbc #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/4DmmmdXriP
— NFL (@NFL) October 8, 2018
Sure, the Cowboys have struggled with O-line injuries this season, and the receiving corps is thin. But every now and then, it wouldn’t hurt to take a page out of Andy Reid’s Kansas City playbook. Throw the ball down the field. Run a fake reverse. Open up the offense. Not to take anything away from a Texans’ defensive effort that limited the Cowboys to 292 total yards, but something has to change with the Dallas offense. And it’s not fair to automatically point the finger at Prescott, who completed 18 of 29 passes for 208 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.