Game Preview: Texans vs. Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys host the Houston Texans at AT&T Stadium for the first time in the $1.2 billion stadium's history, and it's a surprisingly big game, with these teams a combined 6-2 after they were a combined 10-22 last season.

When these teams met on Oct. 15, 2006, at Texas Stadium, Tony Romo threw the first two passes of his career in mop-up duty of a 34-6 Cowboys win.

NFL Nation reporters Tania Ganguli and Todd Archer offer up this week's Game Preview:

Todd Archer: The Cowboys are a surprising 3-1. The Texans are a surprising 3-1. I'm still on the fence about how real the Cowboys truly are. Are you ready to take the Texans for real?

Tania Ganguli: Well, I don't like to think too much about these things because when I do I tend to talk myself out of my correct first instincts. Back in the preseason when we had to predict the schedule I thought the Texans would start 3-1, beating Washington, Oakland and Buffalo while losing to the Giants. This part of the schedule is a kinder, gentler portion, which is especially useful to the Texans for two reasons. First, it allows a team with a new coaching staff to sort things out. Second, the Texans have had to play without No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who is probably two or three weeks from returning, and it hasn't hurt them as much as it could have. I think this team will get better as the season progresses because of those two factors, but I also think the Texans will have much tougher tests than they had in their three wins. And I think that will start this week -- I certainly didn't anticipate the Cowboys being as hot as they are heading into this week.

I half expected the Cowboys to blow Sunday night's game against the Saints. I guess I'm on the fence about them, too. You know them better: What's keeping you from thinking the Cowboys are for real?

Archer: I guess it's just recent history. They were impressive against the Saints last week, but, like you, I was already beginning to think about epic-collapse angles when New Orleans made it 31-17 early in the fourth quarter. Just when you think the Cowboys have things figured out, they revert back to form. It wouldn't surprise me to see them play poorly Sunday. This team does not have a lot of margin for error, especially defensively. And for as well as we all said the Cowboys played against the Saints, they still allowed 438 yards and that came after they allowed an Austin Davis-led offense for the St. Louis Rams to put up 448 yards. My trepidation has nothing to do with the offense, although it has had too many turnovers. It's about the defense. I still see a lot of warts and not a lot of depth. What the Cowboys have done is make timely plays. I don't think they can be expected to just shut down opponents. If they can make them drive the field, then that's OK. Who knows, maybe if they win this week I'll change my tune?

For years we were able to marvel at some of the things DeMarcus Ware did with the Cowboys. I'm wondering if that's the same way with J.J. Watt. Is there anything he can't do?

Ganguli: Well, Texans kicker Randy Bullock said he's never seen him kick. So there's no proof he can do that. He is also not good at golf, unless he's made great strides since he and I talked about this topic a year ago. And he's shown a distinct lack of ability to celebrate in a cool-enough fashion for some of his teammates when he scores touchdowns. Watt has taken a lot of heat, some of it from himself, for that hand in the air, sort of high-step thing he did as he crossed into the end zone after his 80-yard pick-six against the Bills. In all seriousness, though, Watt has a habit of finding a new way to amaze over and over again. Beyond the interception, he had nine quarterback hits on Sunday, which was more than any player had in the first three games of the season combined. Watt is constantly thinking of new ways to use his freakish athletic ability, and he's finding them. His position doesn't really fit into any traditional label -- he's defining it as he goes. And what makes Watt so valuable to the Texans is that really the only way to neutralize him is to pay him a lot of attention. When that happens, it can open up opportunities for other members of the Texans' front.

How big is the loss of Morris Claiborne for this team and how will it change what the Cowboys do?

Archer: It's funny how Watt is such a vital piece to that defense and the Cowboys were hoping Claiborne, whom they moved up to take with the sixth pick of the 2012 draft, would have the same impact on their secondary. It just hasn't happened. Some of it is injury. Some of it is poor play and a lack of confidence. As for the loss of Claiborne, I don't think it will be that big a deal and it definitely won't change what the Cowboys do. What changes is who they do it with. Sterling Moore will take over as the No. 3 corner and he's played better than Claiborne and maybe should have played more anyway. He's a smart player and knows what he can't do so he keeps himself in good spots. I don't know if the Cowboys will be appreciably better with Claiborne out for the season, but I don't believe they will be worse. Saying that about the loss of a high first-round pick compared to a former undrafted player is certainly damning.

To me what was somewhat impressive in seeing the Texans last week was seeing them have success without Arian Foster or Andre Johnson having to carry the day. Are we seeing a changing of the guard with that offense?

Ganguli: The Texans did have success, but they had a lot of problems offensively and their running game is something Texans coach Bill O'Brien talked about needing to improve after Sunday. Foster admitted to not being 100 percent healthy during that game and he had only eight carries. The Texans rushed for just 37 yards. You can commend the Texans for figuring out a way to win without doing what they like to do, which is run the ball effectively. As for Johnson, he is a great safety blanket for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, if he needs it. Johnson is a smart player who runs routes well and communicates well with both his quarterback and his coaches. As they're playing together more, though, Fitzpatrick is clearly developing more confidence in second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins. It's looking like he's starting to believe more and more, as Hopkins piles up his athletic grabs, that Hopkins will catch any jump ball that goes his way.

What's gotten into DeMarco Murray?

Archer: It's more like what's gotten into the Cowboys' playcaller, Scott Linehan. They're actually calling runs and calling a lot of them. Murray has always been productive, but they just didn't call on him as much. The Cowboys have invested three first-round picks in the offensive line in the past four years and have hit on Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. They finally have the pieces in place to back up their actions. Murray's numbers, however, are pretty staggering. He's done something only Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Emmitt Smith have done with four straight 100-yard and one-touchdown games to open a season. That's ridiculous company. He's carried it 99 times in the first four games for 534 yards. He's breaking long runs. He's making tough runs. The line is doing a great job. As a result that has taken pressure off Tony Romo to do everything. It's a simple formula that the Cowboys have finally figured out.