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NFL Preview - Dallas (0-2) at Houston (2-0)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - With Cowboys Stadium set to host the Super Bowl at season's end, many felt there was a good chance the home team and defending NFC East champions would be on the sidelines for that game.
The way the first two weeks of the campaign have gone, the other team from Texas has a better shot of being there.
While the Dallas Cowboys are hoping to avoid losing their first three games of the year for the first time since 2001, the Houston Texans will be trying to start a season 3-0 for the first time in franchise history this Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' quest to become the first team to ever play in a Super Bowl on its home turf hasn't gotten off to a great start, with Dallas starting the season with a pair of one-score defeats. After an ugly-looking 13-7 setback in Washington to begin the season, the Cowboys were outgunned by the Chicago Bears in their home opener this past weekend, falling 27-20.
It doesn't look like the Cowboys have fixed their issues in the kicking game from a season ago, as David Buehler is just 2-for-4 on his attempts. Both misses have come on kicks that would have tied the game, including a missed 44-yard try midway through the fourth quarter of this past weekend's loss.
"[Chicago] made the plays and we didn't," said Dallas head coach Wade Phillips. "We had some opportunities, but we didn't make plays. The missed field goal [really hurt us]. I thought we had a letdown. We went out on the field after the missed field goal with our heads down."
The Cowboys fell despite 374 passing yards and a touchdown throw by quarterback Tony Romo, while wideout Miles Austin hauled in 10 catches for 142 yards. The duo still could not prevent Dallas from starting 0-2 for the first time since opening 2001 with four straight losses.
Dallas was without a pair of Pro Bowl players by game's end in tight end Jason Witten (concussion) and Mike Jenkins (bruised knee). However, both players are expected to play in this contest.
Even with Dallas on the ropes and Houston set to enjoy home-field advantage, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak isn't taking the Cowboys lightly.
"I mean, they're two plays away from being 2-0," Kubiak said. "That's typical of the National Football League. They're the same football team that's loaded with talent that was starting the season and obviously they're in a situation right now. I know they're going to play great football when they come in here. We'll have to be ready to go."
Kubiak will have at his disposal the NFL's top-rated offense through the first two weeks, one that has supplied a league-best 64 points so far to help post a club-record six-game winning streak dating back to last season.
After knocking off the division-rival Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, Houston avoided a letdown this past weekend by posting a 30-27 overtime win at Washington. The Texans rallied from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter with 20 unanswered points, tying the game on Andre Johnson's 34-yard touchdown catch from Matt Schaub on fourth down with 2:03 left in regulation before Neil Rackers' game-winning 35-yard field goal with 3:24 left in OT.
Johnson was able to outleap Redskins safety Reed Doughty despite having injured his ankle earlier in the game.
"My thought coming into the week was a lot of people were going to be questioning us and asking if we were for real. I think we showed them a little something [Sunday]," said Johnson, who is expected to play in this contest despite a sprained right ankle that caused him to miss practice on Wednesday.
Houston, which won in overtime for the first time in seven tries in club history, started a season 2-0 for just the second time since joining the league in 2002. Picking up that third victory in a row got more difficult on Tuesday, when starting left tackle Duane Brown was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
He joins linebacker Brian Cushing, who will be serving the third of a four- game ban for the same offense.
The Texans and Cowboys have split two all-time meetings in the regular season. Houston earned a memorable 19-10 home victory over Dallas in the former franchise's inaugural game in 2002, but America's Team returned the favor with a 34-6 rout of the Texans at Texas Stadium in 2006.
The Cowboys last won in Houston in 1985, a 17-10 victory over the Oilers.
Phillips, who was an assistant with the Houston Oilers under his father, Bum, from 1976 to 1980, will be meeting the Texans for the first time as a head coach. Phillips also attended the University of Houston and was an assistant there. Kubiak is 0-1 against the Cowboys as a head coach, and will be meeting Phillips for the first time head-to-head.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
Moving the ball hasn't been the issue for the Cowboys, who rank fourth in the NFL in total offense (395.0 yards per game) on the strength of the league's second-best pass attack (325.5 ypg). Despite Dallas' ability to march down the field, the club is tied for 25th in scoring. Romo (656 passing yards) has thrown just two touchdown passes, with one of those going to fullback Chris Gronkowski from six yards out versus the Bears. That marked Dallas' lone touchdown out of the offense, with wideout Dez Bryant (10 receptions) taking a punt back 62 yards for a score and Buehler connecting on field goal tries from 28 and 48 yards out before his big miss. Austin (20 receptions, 1 TD) leads the NFL with 288 receiving yards, but Romo has also looked to both his tight ends early on. Witten (8 receptions) and Martellus Bennett combined for 12 catches and 96 yards a week ago. Dallas' run game has been nonexistent so far, with Marion Barber leading the way with 70 yards on 19 carries. He posted 31 yards on 11 carries against the Bears. Though Romo threw his first two interceptions of the season last week, his offensive line kept him upright and has yielded just one sack so far this year.
Look for Romo to attack a Houston secondary that has allowed consecutive 400- yard passers, including 426 to the Redskins' Donovan McNabb a week ago. Despite the heavy numbers, McNabb only threw one touchdown pass, with Washington running back Clinton Portis scoring twice on the ground instead. That spoiled an otherwise solid showing out of the Texans' run defense that gave up just 18 yards on the ground overall. Overall, Houston has allowed just 62 rushing yards over the first two games. Cornerback Glover Quin (12 tackles) and linebacker Zac Diles (20 tackles) led the way with eight tackles each a week ago, while safety Bernard Pollard (13 tackles) and corner Kareem Jackson (10 tackles) notched six each. Though Houston failed to produce a turnover against the Redskins after notching just one on a fumble recovery in Week 1, end Mario Williams (8 tackles, 4 sacks) was a one-man force opposite Washington's offensive line, notching three sacks. He has taken down the quarterback in three straight games, posting five sacks in that span.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
While the Texans have also pushed the ball through the air with great success, unlike the Cowboys, they have also put forth a solid ground game. Running back Arian Foster (300 rushing yards, 3 TD) notched a club record with 231 rushing yards in Week 1 and added another 69 yards on the ground last weekend while also catching three passes for another 69 yards. It was Schaub's turn to shine versus Washington, though, as he set a Texans single-game record with 497 yards to go along with three passing touchdowns. Schaub (604 passing yards, 4 TD, 2 INT) completed 38-of-52 pass attempts in the win, finding eight different receivers. Johnson (15 receptions), Kevin Walter (13 receptions, 2 TD) and Jacoby Jones (8 receptions) all had touchdown receptions, with Johnson leading all receivers with 158 yards. Walter added 144 yards in the win. The question for this weekend will be how much time Schaub has to unload the ball. He was sacked five times last week and won't have Brown protecting his blind side in this meeting. Instead, Rashad Butler is expected to make his first career start.
Dallas will need to put the pressure on Schaub in this one, seeing as it has the league's 19th-ranked pass defense (215.5 ypg). The secondary was burned for 277 passing yards and three touchdowns by Chicago's Jay Cutler and managed just one sack, by linebacker Anthony Spencer (8 tackles). Dallas' 3-4 scheme did limit the Bears to just 38 rushing yards on 19 attempts, getting six tackles out of inside linebacker Bradie James (14 tackles) and five each from fellow linebackers Keith Brooking (12 tackles) and Spencer. As mentioned, the Cowboys will need to turn up the pressure, as they have just two sacks on the season and are still looking for their first turnover of 2010. Given his knee injury, Houston could attack Jenkins (4 tackles) in this one, so safeties Alan Ball (8 tackles) and Gerald Sensabaugh (6 tackles) will need to be on notice to lend a hand. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware (9 tackles), who has Dallas' other sack, has 10 1/2 sacks in his last 13 games versus the AFC, posting at least one quarterback takedown in nine of those games.
Romo and Austin have put up good numbers so far and Witten is always a threat to haul in a heavy number of catches. Owners will need to keep an eye on the latter, though, in case he has a setback this week stemming from his concussion. Barber has just four more carries than fellow back Felix Jones, but neither has been productive. Of the two, Barber has the better chance of finding the end zone. Neither Dallas' defense or Buehler offer much confidence this weekend.
Houston offers no shortage of fantasy contributors in Schaub, Johnson, Walter and Foster. Even Jacoby Jones as a third wideout is worth a look in deeper leagues. The loss of Brown could have an impact on Schaub's ability to get the ball deep, but expect the quarterback to put up good numbers yet again. Rackers has missed one of his six field-goal tries so far, but Houston's defense should probably be avoided.
We are only three weeks into the season, but this matchup between the Texans and Cowboys is huge for both clubs. Jerry Jones is expecting big things out of his team, and an 0-3 start will certainly have the owner screaming from the top of the mountain. Phillips probably has the most to lose this weekend, as another setback will turn up the temperature on his hot seat. Dallas' inability to get into the end zone has been its major problem and perhaps a meeting against Houston's young secondary could help things. So could a running game. For the Texans, a 3-0 start would further boost the confidence of this talented bunch and put them further on the path of a first-ever playoff berth. Houston catches a break by hosting this game against a desperate Dallas team, but we just can't see the Cowboys falling to 0-3.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 28, Texans 20
09/26 00:15:55 ET