Week 3 finds the Cowboys in another matchup with a team that is uses a zone-blocking scheme much like they saw in Week 1 with the Redskins.
The Texans have the best offensive line that the Cowboys have faced so far this season, but there is now an interesting twist. Left tackle Duane Brown is the best linemen that the Texans have, but now he must sit four games because a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. This is a huge break for the Cowboys because Brown has done an outstanding job in the first two weeks handling Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney as rushers.
In Brown’s place is fifth-year pro Rashad Butler, who was originally drafted by Carolina and hasn’t started a game during his NFL career. Butler doesn’t play with the footwork and power that Brown has. Brown does a nice job of running his man up the field but also can be a force at the point of attack getting push.
If there is a saving grace for the Texans, it is the fact that their next best offensive lineman happens to play next to Brown and that is guard Wade Smith. Smith is the best athlete on the line. He is outstanding pulling and in space. Good adjust and finish. Plays with nastiness. Not afraid to dive into the legs of the defender when blocking on the backside of the zone play. Is a willing helper when blocking in the pocket, when uncovered, he will take a shot at the rushers ribs as well.
There will no doubt that Smith will be that safety net for Butler in this game and not leave him on an island for too many plays.
*Texans running back Arian Foster is a load and there is no way around it. He is physical breaking tackles. Foster is not a home run back, but he is the type that can wear you down the more he carries the ball.
In the first game of the season against the Colts, he took over the game. The Colts were down safety Bob Sanders, but as the game wore on, the more the Colts wanted nothing to do with Foster.
The most impressive thing about Foster is how he has a feel for running behind this line. He is patient in the way he takes the ball, watches the blocks develop then makes a cut through the hole.
The one area the Cowboys cannot struggle is getting off blocks. The Texans like to stretch your defense out and then cut the backside. The Texans’ offensive does a really nice job of staying on their feet front-side and tying the defenders up, allowing their backs to make the reads.
If the Cowboys’ defense doesn’t play with their hands and play square, they will be in for a long day. Players like Igor Olshansky and Marcus Spears will play a huge role this week because if they get hooked, now the ball for the Texans is out on the edge.
Watch Keith Brooking and Bradie James in this game. It will be very important for them to be in the right place and fit correctly in the scheme. If they overshoot the play, the ball will come backside on them.
Too much stretch creates gaps in the defense and with Foster running the ball, that’s a problem. Fits and finishes are the goal for the defense this week.
*Andre Johnson is one of the top five receivers -- if not one of the top five players overall -- in the NFL.
How do the Cowboys go about trying to slow him down? You don’t.
The Texans will line him up all over the place so you can’t get a lock on him. In games this season, Johnson has lined up in the back field, in the slot and on the outside.
Johnson is an outstanding football player with rare talent. His movement is effortless and he will go all over the field to catch the ball. The defensive problem you run into when you play Johnson is that you can have him covered, but he still manages to make the play. Where the Cowboys need to be careful is not to allow Johnson to be that dominant player.
It will be interesting to see the health of Mike Jenkins this week. He was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, which are your big work days. The Cowboys are already light at corner but need Jenkins’ skill in coverage to try to slow Johnson down, which will be a tall order.
*Through the first two weeks of the 2010 season, the Cowboys are ranked first in the NFL in fewest sacks per attempt on offense. The Texans are ranked 17th in sacking the quarterback but last in the NFL in pass defense.
This is where the Cowboys need to take advantage of the Texans. If the Cowboys can protect Tony Romo, they can make some plays down the field.
The majority of the pass rush comes from defensive ends Mario Williams and Antonio Smith. Williams and Smith will line up all over the place along the front to try and create mismatches. Amobi Okoye is the defensive tackle in the scheme and he will try to beat you with quickness up the field more than power.
Rookie Kareem Jackson is on the outside at corner and looks like he has skill but gave up a big play to Redskins receiver Joey Galloway on a vertical route and some inside routes as well. When the Texans go to the nickel, they move starting left corner Glover Quin into the slot and put Texan (by birth) Brice McCain on the outside.
Against the Colts, defensive coordinator Frank Bush played his nickel package the majority of the game to combat the Colts’ three-wide receiver package.
Where the Texans struggled last week was giving up the big play to the Redskins by losing their men in routes in crossing routes and down-the-field routes. The majority of the coverage is Cover 2 and with some of the success that the Bears had last week in jamming receivers, you will probably get the same look from the Texans.
If the Cowboys can handle those twist stunts, which have given them trouble in the past, they will be able to put pressure on this Texans secondary.