1. Butler vs. Ware:Left tackle Rashad Butler has waited more than four seasons to make his first NFL start. Now that it's finally here, his reward is Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who has averaged more than 14 sacks in the last four years.
Butler moved into the starting lineup this week when Duane Brown was suspended for four games by the NFL for performance-enhancing substances. The last time Butler started a meaningful game was in the 2005 Peach Bowl in his senior season at Miami (Fla.). A third-round draft pick, the only starts he has made in the NFL have been of the preseason variety.
"In this business, you never know," Butler said. "I just always prepare myself so that if I ever was to be in this situation, I would be ready. I think all of my preparation in my past four years has prepared me for this day. It's time to just let it loose, man; show everybody what I'm made of."
Butler has been with the Texans since 2007, when Houston claimed him off waivers from the Carolina Panthers. He struggled to keep weight on in Carolina because of a condition called ulcerative colitis, which the Texans have gotten under control and for which Butler now takes medication twice a day.
Before Brown's injury, Butler played on special teams and goal-line packages. His most extensive playing time with the Texans came in the second half of last season's game at St. Louis after Brown went out with an injury.
"He's had a lot of reps with us, so it's not like we expected him to struggle from that standpoint," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Friday. "His preparation's been good. He's ready to go, it's just a matter of getting those reps on the field and he's fixing to get them against a great player, so we've got to be able to help him… He'll get a chance to prove he can be a starter in this league."
2. Pick your poison:The Texans won with their running game in Week 1 and with their passing game in Week 2. Will they use a more balanced combination of the two in Week 3?
When Arian Foster ran for a team-record 231 yards two weeks ago against the Colts, quarterback Matt Schaub threw for only 107 yards on 17 attempts. Foster had 33 carries. When Schaub threw for a team-record 497 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday at Washington, Foster had only 69 rushing yards on 19 carries. Schaub had 52 pass attempts.
The Texans' offense ranks first in the league in scoring, total yards and rushing, and sixth in passing.
"One week they run for 300 yards and the next week they throw for 500," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "It's pretty impressive… They can run it really well. If you back off – basically, that's what we did in preseason – they can just tear you up in the running game. If you come after them, they can throw it."
Foster ran for 110 yards in three quarters against the Cowboys in the second-to-last game of the preseason. So long as the Texans' running game continues to thrive, their offense will be a formidable matchup for any opposing defense.
3. Mario's world:Defensive end Mario Williams has been nothing short of dominant in the first two games of his fifth season.
The 2006 No. 1 overall pick leads the AFC and ranks second in the NFL with 4.0 sacks. That includes three sacks in Week 2 against Donovan McNabb and two half-sacks in Week 1 against Peyton Manning.
Williams also has two other tackles for loss and four quarterback hits, and 3.5 of his sacks have come in the second half.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been sacked only once this season, but he was dropped 34 times in 2009. Dallas left tackle Doug Free (6-6, 306), a fourth-round pick in 2007, has yet to allow a sack in 2010.
4. Secondary concerns:After giving up 433 yards to Peyton Manning and 426 yards to Donovan McNabb, the Texans rank last in the league in passing defense. As reported by the Houston Chronicle this week, no team has ever allowed 400 yards passing in three consecutive games.
Growing pains were to be expected given the youth of the Texans' cornerbacks, a group comprised of three rookies, two second-year players and one third-year player. But Kubiak likes the improvement he has seen from first-round pick Kareem Jackson.
"I think he's doing really well," Kubiak said. "Obviously, we've given up a bunch of yards in the back end, but I see him getting better in practice. I see him doing things better in a game. I thought probably in our back end last week, he might have played as well as anybody we had when it was all said and done. I think he's only going to get better and he's had some big challenges on his plate for two weeks, and he'll get another one this week."
Though Tony Romo and the Cowboys have gotten off to an 0-2 start, they're second in the league with 325.2 passing yards per game. Wide receiver Miles Austin leads the league with 288 receiving yards on 20 catches. Rookie first-round draft pick Dez Bryant is second on the Cowboys with 10 catches for 108 yards.
5. Homefield advantage:With the buzz surrounding the Texans at a fever pitch and the cross-state Cowboys coming to town, the crowd could be a major factor in Sunday's game.
The Texans are on a league-high six-game winning streak and looking to go 3-0 for the first time. The last time the Cowboys played in Houston in the regular season was the first game in franchise history, when the expansion Texans pulled off a shocking 19-10 victory on Sept. 8, 2002.
The Texans, who have sold out every game since then, have their sights set on becoming a dominant home team after going 4-4 at Reliant Stadium last season. They were 6-2 at home in 2007 and 2008.
"I think the key to being a really successful team in this league is that you take care of your business at home and your place is a really tough place to play," Kubiak said. "Making it a tough place to play and getting our fans into it, that's up to us; they've always done their job. It's another big week. We need them to be loud. They were great opening day against the Colts, and we'll need them again."