The Texans (1-3) host the Cowboys (2-2) on Sunday Night Football. It's the fifth regular season meeting between the two franchises. Here are five things to watch when Houston and Dallas kick off at 7:20 inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Go deep- Watson and the Texans have been good this season at getting 'chunk plays' through the air. He's currently tied for 4th in the League with 19 completions of 20 yards or more. The Cowboys secondary is 6th-best in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, with just 208.5.
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett is very impressed with Watson, and the variety of ways he can affect a defense.
"They're able to do so many different things with him," Garrett said. "Throw from the pocket, all of the different actions they do, the play action stuff, the movement stuff, some of the option stuff that they do – he just threatens you so many different ways. I think he's a great football player."
Helping Watson out last week was the addition of rookie receiver Keke Coutee, who caught 11 passes for 109 yards in his debut. According to assistant coach Wes Welker, he impacts the way opponents defend against the Texans offense, which should be good for Watson and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, V.
"That's why our outside receivers have to continue to play well, like Hop and Will are and make them play two-high, so now that opens it up for Keke," Welker said. "Having that multitude and making the defense do different things like that where they can't just focus in on one or two guys, they're focusing on everybody."
2) Protect better- Watson was sacked seven times on Sunday, and he's been sacked 17 times in 2018. He needs better protection, but the second-year quarterback said some of that is dependent upon him.
"A lot of those hits are on me, getting rid of the ball, not holding the ball too long and just protecting myself, but that's part of the game," Watson said. "I don't shy away from all that."
The Cowboys defense is third in the NFL with 14 sacks this year, and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence leads the League with 5.5. Head coach Bill O'Brien explained why Lawrence, who notched 14.5 sacks last season, is so effective at getting to the quarterback.
"Great length, athleticism," O'Brien said. "He plays very hard, plays hard on every snap. He's chasing the ball sideline to sideline, chasing the quarterback. He can wreck a game."
Garrett pointed out that the defensive pressure generated by Dallas doesn't come solely from Lawrence.
"Tyrone Crawford is an outstanding player for us," Garrett said. "We have a lot of other guys that we mix in there and they all play the game the right way, they do a good job defending the run and obviously, we're all trying to affect that quarterback.
3) Eyes on Elliott: The Cowboys have the game's finest running back in Ezekiel Elliott. Currently atop the NFL rushing yards leaderboard, Elliott's yardage totals on the ground have gone up every week since the season opener. Last Sunday against the Lions, he rumbled for 152 yards on 25 carries and caught four passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.
"He's everything you want in a back," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "He reminds me of the guys that used to run the ball back in the day, guys who really run behind their pads, looking for contact. Their offense runs through him, so they're going to feed him. Any time he gets the ball, it seems like they get going. We'll have to do a good job of just tackling him, hitting him and then trying to contain him."
Defensive end J.J. Watt pointed out how good Elliott's hands are, and how he's such a dangerous receiver and "not just a guy that catches balls out of the backfield", which is a threat in itself.
"We just need to make sure that we know where he is at all times and do our best to stop him," Watt said. "He gets paid a lot of money to play this game too, so I'm sure he's going to make a play or two here or there. We just have to try to minimize him."
4) Improve against the pass- The last two weeks have been tough for the Texans defense. The combo of Eli Manning and Andrew Luck has completed 76 percent of their passes for just over 750 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel explained why.
"We miscommunicated several things, which allowed them to make plays because we were not where I anticipated us being," Crennel said. "Some of that occurs. Then, you have to look at sometimes we miss the tackle and it allows them to get a first down instead of us getting off the field. We harp on it all the time about knowing where your help is, using your help, taking proper angles when you have to tackle."
Watt, who finished with a pair of strip-sacks last week, took it a step further and put the onus on himself and the pass rush. He detailed how he and the defense could perform better on third down.
"Get more sacks," Watt said. "I'll put it on me. I'll go get more sacks, whatever we can do. Third-and-long is where you want them, so it's our job to then get off the field, whether that's more pressure, sacks, batting down balls, whatever we can do. Find a way."
5) Get takeaways: For the second time this season, the Texans had more takeaways than turnovers in a game. It helped deliver their first win, as a Jadeveon Clowney fumble recovery for a touchdown, and a Watt strip-sack deep in Colts' territory set the offense up for a quick score as well.
Watson was picked off once, so the Texans were a plus-1 in turnover differential. On the season, they're at minus-1, which is tied for 17th in the NFL.
A pair of picks in Week 1 at New England are the lone interceptions by the defense this year. Mathieu explained how the Texans can add to that total.
"You just have to create more chemistry," Mathieu said. "Then a lot of dialogue has to take place. Sometimes the ball just has to bounce in your hands. We'll just keep chipping away. I felt like we started the season off the way we wanted to as far as takeaways go. Kind of been a little dull in that area since, so it's important for us on the back end to try to create turnovers."
Dallas, meanwhile, has just two takeaways this year, to go with four turnovers. That minus-2 mark has them tied for 20th in the League. They've yet to pick off a pass in 2018.
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/29/2020)