By Rich Bergeron
It’s a Texas-sized battle this week in Arlington with the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans clashing Sunday at 1PM EST with both aiming to improve to 4-1. The Cowboys and Texans only have three games against each other in the history of their rivalry, dating back to 2001. So far, the Cowboys are ahead in the series two games to one, winning the last two games by a combined score of 61-19.
Cowboys vs Texans Betting Line courtesy of Bovada:
Point Spread: Cowboys (home) -7.0 (even), Texans (away) +7.0 (-120)
Money Line (to win): Cowboys -290, Texans +245
Over/Under: 47.0 points, Over -105, Under -115
Though the Texans have not allowed more than 17 points per game in their three wins, they gave up 30 points to the New York Giants in their lone loss a couple weeks ago. Starting Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is struggling with fumbles (3) and interceptions (5), but he’s thrown five touchdown passes on 73 completions (112 attempts) for 902 yards. The last few weeks he’s had to deal with some major injuries to his support staff. All-star receiver Andre Johnson (22 receptions, 262 yards, lost fumble) is dealing with an ankle injury, and he’s questionable this week. DeAndre Hopkins is seeing much more action these days thanks to Johnson’s time on the sidelines. Hopkins has 18 receptions on 25 targets for 291 yards and 3 TDs. Running Back Arian Foster (63 carries, 247 yards, TD, 11 receptions, 84 yards) is probable to start against Dallas, but his injured hamstring may not be 100 percent healed. Then there is the devastating loss of the team’s first pick in the NFL draft: Linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who is out at least a couple more weeks with a knee injury.
The Dallas Cowboys come into this game on a roll, winning three straight after dropping their season-opener to San Francisco. Though Tony Romo’s performance at quarterback can be unpredictable and often underwhelming, this year represents a real rebirth for Romo (82-118, 936 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs) thanks to a league-leading rushing attack putting up an average 165 yards per game. DeMarco Murray leads the NFL with 534 yards on the ground to go with five touchdowns. More impressively, Murray is averaging 5.4 yards per carry with an average of around 25 carries per game. Defenses always have to anticipate the run, so Romo’s now able to hit his receiving targets more often. He comes into the game with a nagging back issue, but he’s been able to participate in full practices, so Dallas fans shouldn’t panic.
Romo’s success could potentially be stifled this week thanks to the Texans defense notching 11 takeaways so far on the season, which is tied for the league lead. Defensive End J.J. Watt returned an interception 80 yards down the field for a touchdown last week, helping lead his team to a 23-17 win over the Buffalo Bills. He also has two sacks and a fumble recovery.
The Cowboys defense is all banged up, to say the least. Starting Cornerback Morris Claiborne out for the season thanks to a torn tendon in his left knee. Linebacker Bruce Carter is out with a strained quadriceps along with fellow Linebacker Sean Lee who will sit the season out due to a torn ACL.
This could be one of the best games this week, and it has all the ingredients of a back-and-forth, down-to-the-last-whistle affair. Still, Dallas seems like the better team on paper and should be able to win this one by at least a touchdown.
Prediction: Fitzpatrick and the Texans offense struggle to score points with Foster contributing another under-par effort on the ground. Romo and Murray dazzle once again with Romo flexing his arm for over 300 yards passing and two touchdowns and Murray notching three scores and at least 100 yards rushing. The Texans defense tries to contain the Cowboys, but they just can’t compete this week. Texans lose 20 to 41.