After a week to rest following their 17-15 victory over the Miami Dolphins, the Texans (1-3) hit the road and travel to Texas Stadium to square off against their intrastate rival Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys (2-2) have been the closest thing the NFL has to a circus this season led by legendary and outspoken head coach Bill Parcells and wide receiver Terrell Owens, who brings attention to whichever team he is playing for.
Regardless of the off the field antics, Parcells will lead one of the most talented teams in the NFC on the field against the Texans. While there are holes here and there, the blend of youth and experience on the Cowboys make them an interesting team to watch. The offense, although inconsistent, has the potential to put up big numbers, while Parcells version of the 3-4 defense has finally taken shape in his fourth year in Big D. Coming off a disappointing loss to divisional rival
**If given the choice, Parcells would lean on the running game as much as possible, just as he did with Joe Morris and Ottis Anderson during his Super Bowl runs in
With a base formation employing two tight ends, a single back and two wide receivers, the Cowboys certainly have one of the more unique offensive looks in the league, but with the third highest scoring offense in the league thus far (28 point per game), there is no questioning its' effectiveness.
One thing that many people are questioning is the job status of quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Entering the season, many wondered whether or not the 14- year veteran had enough left in the tank to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Young backup Tony Romo was impressive in the preseason and many clamored for him to take the position, but Parcells has maintained that Bledsoe is the quarterback to lead his team. However, after four games, Cowboy fans are having their doubts again.
Through four games, Bledsoe has accounted for five touchdown passes, but has also thrown seven interceptions and completed passes at only a 51 percent clip. His quarterback rating of 63.6 ranks him only 27 th in the league and during last week's loss against Philadelphia, Bledsoe under threw numerous receivers leading to three interceptions including one that was returned for a touchdown when Dallas was going in for the tying score
He may still be blessed with a rifle arm that has characterized him throughout his career, but Bledsoe's lack of mobility is becoming a concern. Bledsoe has been sacked 10 times in four games and it will be interesting to see how the Texans attack him. If Bledsoe is given time, he can still find open receivers and make things happen. But under distress, Bledsoe has shown he can be harassed into forcing the ball into the opposition's hands.
There is no doubt about how talented Terrell Owens is. His five Pro Bowl appearances, 102 career touchdowns, and nine-catch, 122-yard performance in Super Bowl XXXIX as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles are just a few examples of what kind of player Owens can be. The question lies in how committed Owens is to the team concept. Always demanding of the ball and vehemently upset when he doesn't get it, no one knows what Owens reaction will be on any given play.
The most consistent receiver on the Cowboys and best player they have at the position right now is Terry Glenn. Familiar with Parcells and Bledsoe from their days in
Through four games, Glenn has registered 20 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
Another important aspect of Parcells' offense is the use of the tight end. Considering there are two in most of the time, both are asked to be equally adept at receiving and blocking in order to give the opposing defense multiple options to be aware of. Two-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten (66 catches, 757 yards, 6 touchdowns in 2005) mans one spot while rookie and second round draft pick Anthony Fasano out of Notre Dame takes over the other spot.
With the importance that Parcells puts on the running game, the Cowboys should be thankful to have two of the leagues up and coming players at the position: Julius Jones and Marion Barber. Seeing the most playing time is Jones, who raised doubts early in his career about his ability to stave off injury and his overall durability due tohis size. He also has found his way into Parcells' doghouse for fumbling problems. Jones is very elusive and has the ability to turn a short gain into a big play. Following two seasons of inconsistency marked with flashes of brilliance, Jones finally has quelled doubters by gaining 388 yards and averaging 4.5 yards per carry during the first four contests of this season. His compliment, Barber, is bigger then Jones and is more effective around the goal line, a reputation he earned from his time at the University of Minnesota where he always showed a nose for the end zone.
If there is a weakness on the Cowboys offensive unit, it lies with the offensive line. Injuries and the departures of key veterans have forced this line to come together. Question marks abound everywhere starting with left tackle Flozell Adams. A two-time Pro Bowl selection,
The bookend tackle is Marc Colombo, a former first round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2002, who with his own knee troubles, only started seven games in three years with the Bears.
Center Andre Gurode is the anchor for the line, but his status is questionable following an incident in Week 4 against
The Cowboys offense, although talented, can be contained if attacked properly. Getting pressure on the struggling Bledsoe and the hurting offensive line would be the best place to start. Although blitzing may put you in single coverage on the outside with Owens or Glenn, it also forces Bledsoe to make a play to beat you which he has had trouble showing he can do. Blitzing would also guard against the run by bringing more people attacking the line of scrimmage. Giving Bledsoe time to find his receivers is what will hurt the Texans in this game if they can't get pressure.
**Although not in the same caliber of the great Giants' defenses of the 80's and early 90's, the Cowboys have a young core of players on the defensive side of the ball to be a force in the league for years to come. Parcells' version of the 3-4 relies strictly on the outside linebackers to bring pressure off the edge with the three defensive lineman getting blockers off the inside linebackers to make tackles. With a unit chock full of young stars led by safety Roy Williams, the Cowboys should be one of the top defensive units by the conclusion of the season.
Anchoring the defensive line is veteran nose tackle Jason Ferguson, a Parcells favorite from his time with the Jets. He may not have the ideal size of most 3-4 defensive lineman at only 310 pounds, but
A perfect fit in the Cowboys defense, Canty is a strong run defender whose long arms allow him to keep separation with offensive lineman and pursue opposing ball carriers.
Any havoc created on the defensive side of the ball will probably be caused by second year outside linebacker Demarcus Ware. Ware (6-4, 257) will be playing the same position Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor played in Parcells' defense and while there is no duplicating the production of a legend, a lot is expected of Ware. His nose for the ball is very rare and his outstanding athletic ability is aiding the transition he is making from playing defensive end in college to linebacker now. Through four games, Ware has 2.5 sacks and is well on his way to surpassing his total of eight from last season.
On the other side is another defensive end transplant Greg Ellis. One of the more solid defensive ends in the league, Ellis has been forced into duty at the outside linebacker position this season, a change that was not received well at first, but seems to be paying dividends thus far. Like Ware, Ellis has 2.5 sacks and is fourth on the team in tackles. Also seeing time on the outside is second year player Kevin Burnett, another 2005 draft pick with a great work ethic and upside which could force Ellis back to defensive end or a move to the inside for Burnett.
The main man in the middle for
Rookie Bobby Carpenter was expected to play a role in the Cowboys linebacking corps, but as of the last game, has yet to make an impact.
Cornerback Terrence Newman has established himself as one of the best cover corners in the league. Blessed with world-class athleticism and outstanding ball skills, Newman can lock down opposing #1 receivers and take them out of the game. Formerly a punt returner in college at
Despite his flaws, his 20 career interceptions show he is capable of making plays.
The leader of the Cowboys defense is fifth-year strong safety Roy Williams. A relentless and bruising safety who makes receivers pay the price for going over the middle, Williams (6-0, 220) has been scrutinized for his lack of speed and ability when defending the pass. While his best work may not be done in the passing game, he has a nose for the ball (two interceptions this year), and is able to create fumbles with big hits. Williams has also suffered from the lack of experience teaming up with him at the free safety position. Rookie Pat Watkins and veterans Marcus Coleman and Keith Davis have all seen time at free safety this season with no one separating themselves from the pack.
The key to attacking this Cowboys defense is to attack the middle of the field with the pass through play action. The inside linebackers and safeties are more suited to defend the run, so baiting them on the run and going to the air seems like a logical attack. Giving up 215.8 yards per game through the air (20 th in the NFL) supports that reasoning, but keeping in mind players like Williams and Newman can make a play at anytime may be the risk you have to take. Especially against a team that is only giving up 75 yards on the ground (5 th in the league).
**It is not often you see a kicking game in as much turmoil as the Cowboys, but after acquiring the most prolific kicker in NFL history (by field goal percentage) and dealing with his various aches and pains this off-season, there is still a question as to whether or not he can make it through the entire season healthy. After forcing Parcells to keep another kicker costing multiple players their jobs and missing the first game of the season with an injured groin, Vanderjagt has been perfect on 12 extra points and connected on four of five field goals. When he is healthy, there are few, if any, better than Vanderjagt. His real worth will be measured in the postseason, a place he failed in his time with the Indianapolis Colts.
Punter Mat McBriar has developed into one of the most consistent punters in the league. His strong leg allows him to boom the ball deep and drop his opponents deep inside their 20 yard line, but as statistics indicate, he struggles with getting hang time on his punts allowing big returns for his opponents. Thus far, McBriar has averaged 50.7 yards per kick, but the lack of hang time on these kicks have allowed opponents to return the ball at almost 10 yards per return.
In the return game, the Cowboys have struggled, but appear to have settled on Tyson Thompson on kickoffs and Terrance Newman on punts. Thompson, a backup running back, is averaging 26.6 yards per return, good enough for sixth in the NFL. Newman, on the other hand, has yet to get going averaging only 7.9 yards per punt return. However, he does have the breakaway ability to increase that average at any moment.