"Behind Enemy (Side)Lines" is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram gives insight on the Texans upcoming opponent.
What's been the buzz in Dallas with both the Cowboys and Texans entering Sunday's game with 3-1 records?
"I think they're just excited that they beat New Orleans. I think that was the big litmus test the Cowboys fans felt in getting that monkey off their back. They had been kind of killed by New Orleans last season and the Saints had owned them so I think there's just a euphoria right now around here. I get the feeling from the Cowboys fans that they're kind of taking this one for granted. They feel like they are going to beat the Texans and be sitting there 4-1 going into Seattle and then who knows what happens.
"Now, I don't believe that at all and I don't think the Cowboys players believe that at all. The Texans are obviously much improved from last season and I think they have a lot of respect for them and they know they have to get ready to play and have to play well if they're going to win this thing.
Dallas has won three-consecutive weeks in a row after losing to San Francisco in Week 1. What's been different for the Cowboys?
"I think they've committed to the run which has been the big thing and then they haven't turned the ball over. They had the fumble that was returned for a touchdown early in the San Francisco game. DeMarco Murray fumbled and then Tony Romo threw three interceptions. Since then, they've been pretty turnover-free and they were plus-3 the other day and forced some turnovers. The biggest thing, though, is being able to run the ball. DeMarco Murray had 534 yards, 156 more than the second-place runner, so the offensive line is blocking really well and that enables them to do other things offensively.
"The defense, too, has been the biggest surprise. They've been able to stop people. They were the third-worst defense in NFL history last season and then turned that thing around. They're not perfect. They're not a great defense by any stretch of the imagination but they've played well enough to keep the team in the games and let the running game and the offense kind of win it for them. They've done that really, really well.
"Then, you throw in Dan Bailey, maybe the best kicker in the NFL. The guy's just automatic. You talk about Justin Tucker but Dan Bailey gets up there and he's not going to miss. He hasn't missed since San Diego early last season. He has a team record in consecutive field goals made and is headed for the NFL record and I wouldn't be surprised if he breaks Mike Vanderjagt's record."
How surprising is it that DeMarco Murray is having the season he is this year?
"I think the most surprising thing is that the Cowboys have stuck with the run. That's something they haven't done in past years. They are on their third offensive coordinator in three years and in past years, they would get out of the run and go to the pass. They weren't committed to running the ball and this year, they've just committed themselves to, 'I don't care how many people you put in the box, we're going to run the ball. We think we can out-block you and get Murray to that second level.' It's worked.
"I asked Jason Garrett yesterday, "Does it make it easier to call running plays when you have that success running?" Of course, it's almost a rhetorical question. Of course it is. But, they don't care who is in the box and that was kind of my point. In past years, if they had seen eight, nine, ten men in the box, they were going to audible to the pass and throw the ball up. It's not that way anymore. They are going to load up and still run the ball, and try to run the clock. They can get the lead any you're probably going to get in trouble because you're not going to be able to stop the run. That to me, has been the difference in this team. They've been able to run the ball in the past but they are just committed to it this year and (offensive coordinator) Scott Linehan has just done a great job with that."
How concerned is Dallas with the durability of a three-down back like Murray and preserving his health for the rest of the season and beyond?*
"Yeah, that's been a big topic around here is his workload because he does have a lot of carries, he does have a lot of yards. He has taken a lot of hits. There's no question about that so I do think that is a concern and it's a concern going forward and they are going to have to get their other backs involved, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. Randle did get some carries the other day.
"They've got to commit to doing that too in taking a little bit of the pressure off DeMarco because he does have an injury history. In his past three years, he's been off the field. Every year, he's never made it through a 16-game season and frankly, they're in trouble if they don't keep him healthy."
Tony Romo has been missing Wednesday practices lately. Is he at a point in his career where he can miss a day of practice for the greater good of staying healthy?
"They would love to have him practice every day but this has worked really well for them. I would be surprised if they changed the plan. They don't know what the plan is from week to week. They just kind of go to him and say, 'Hey, how are you feeling?' and he says, 'Alright. I probably need a rehab day.' And that's how it has worked for the past few weeks and it's worked well. He's looked good in the games. He's looked fresh. He had a herniated disc surgery to repair that herniated disc on December 27. He's just kind of rehabbed from that. He's still not 100 percent back to health; you can tell that with some of his throws but he's getting better. He's getting healthier and I think these days off have really helped him.
"I think you're probably right. He's probably at the point in his career where missing a day of practice is ok. On Wednesdays, it is their only padded practice of the week but they mostly work on their running game and their play-action passing game so it's a good day to miss if he's going to miss a day and like I said, it's worked well the past few weeks."
Dez Bryant has been getting a lot of attention for his sideline behavior in complaining about not getting the ball. Despite all that, he leads the Cowboys receivers in receiving yards and has three touchdowns. How is he perceived among his teammates in the locker room and what has that chemistry been like between him and Romo? Has it all been blown out of proportion by the media?
"Oh yeah, blown out of proportion by the national media, not the local media. If you ask the local media, we love Dez Bryant. He won our good-guy award last season. He's always accessible. He's always in there. He's fantastic. I've said over and over and over for the last three years, if the Cowboys had 53 Dez Bryants as passionate, as hard as this guy works, as much as he wants to win, they would have been to the playoffs. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2009. They wouldn't be in this drought right now if they had 53 Bryants. He is that emotional, that passionate, wants to win that much. Everyone in the locker room loves him. He may be the most-loved guy in there. His teammates just really feed off him. They know how he is, they understand. We've gotten an understanding of him too. It's all for the good for the team. If Dez catches no passes and they win, I guarantee he's the happiest guy in that locker room."
The Texans will face the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. on CBS/KHOU-11 and SportsRadio 610.