KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Big plays allowed and self-inflicted wounds have the Cowboys sitting winless entering Week 3 for the first time in five years. Miles Austin (20 catches in two games) is playing exceedingly well, but the rest of the offense will have to get up to speed quickly if the Cowboys are going to match the Texans' explosive, balanced, big-play offense. In the opener, RB Arian Foster rushed for a franchise-record 231 yards in a victory over Indianapolis. Last week, QB Matt Schaub passed for 497 yards, a franchise record, in the Texans' first ever overtime win, at Washington. The offensive line has been good, but losing LT Duane Brown to a four-game suspension might be a crack in the foundation. Rashad Butler, a four-year veteran, will be making his first career start -- and contending with All-Pro OLB DeMarcus Ware.
FAST FACTS: Opponents are just 4-of-24 on third downs against the Cowboys. ... A win for the Cowboys would prevent the first 0-3 start since 2001 when the Cowboys finished 5-11. It would also snap a three-game losing streak dating back to the divisional playoff loss to the Vikings last year. ... The Cowboys are seeking their 400th victory in franchise history. Only one other team, the Steelers, have won 400 games since the NFL-AFL merger. ... The Texans have six consecutive victories, a team record and the current league high dating back to a Dec. 12 loss at Jacksonville last season.
INSIDE THE COWBOYS CAMP:
The Cowboys have held their team meetings.
They have made changes in the practice schedule and in their strategy.
Now it's time to see if there will be a change in the results on the field Sunday against the Texans.
The Cowboys are 0-2 and facing a must-win situation against the Texans if they want to save their season.
Sure, 14 games remain, but the Cowboys also know their chances of rebounding and making the playoffs go down if they open the season with three straight losses.
"I think it's an important football game," quarterback Tony Romo said. "It's not unlike statistics as far as turnover ratio in a football game. If you're a plus, you have a chance of winning a football game. If you go 0-3 your percentages go down for having a good season. If you win and go 1-2, you have a better percentage shot. This is an important game.
"We know that. We understand it will be a tough environment against a really, really good football team. It will be a great challenge for us, but we feel we're going to give our best effort."
Romo said there is a sense of urgency.
"Absolutely," Romo said. "There has been a sense of urgency. Now, results matter. It's a point where we always talk about the process and doing things right. The results are a byproduct of not doing certain things right. We just need to get those things done that allow you to win or lose the game and do them right. This week in practice we've worked on a couple of different things. We've switched up practice a little bit. From the time we step out there until we're done, it's go, go, go. It will be tougher, but it will be a positive hopefully."
INSIDE THE TEXANS CAMP: Texans fans can't get enough of defensive end Mario Williams, who is off to the best start of his five-year career with four sacks and eight hurries in the victories over Indianapolis and Washington.
In his first four seasons, Williams totaled five sacks in September. He can equal or surpass that total against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Texans are trying to become 3-0 for the first time. They need Williams to have the kind of game he had against the Colts and Redskins. He's been dominant against the run and on the pass rush. The Texans allow 31 yards a game rushing, ranking second, and Williams has played a major role in the smothering run defense.
Williams knows the Cowboys will game plan for him. Seldom will they allow tackles Doug Free and Marc Colombo to try and handle Williams by themselves. They'll use a tight end or shade a running back to Williams' side.
Williams starts on the right side and moves to the left in passing situations. Sometimes he's up. Sometimes he's down. Sometimes he runs stunts and loops. No matter what, he's extremely difficult to block.
"I look at what I do and what I do best, and I do critique that," he said. "I don't compare myself to anybody."
Williams believes he's the top defensive end in the NFL. Many are starting to agree because of his exceptional start.
He said, "It's not about being conceited; it's about making yourself accountable. You have to grow accustomed to that mentality. Whenever I'm out there, no matter what the situation is, I want to be the one making the play, making the tackle for a loss."
COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: CB Mike Jenkins was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday but he will be ready for Sunday's showdown with the Texans and All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson.
--WR Dez Bryant has been limited in practice this week with a rib injury he suffered in the opener against the Redskins. But Bryant played last week and will not miss Sunday's game against the Texans.
--TE Jason Witten has had no setbacks this week in practice since suffering a concussion in the fourth quarter against the Bears. He has been cleared to play against the Texans on Sunday.
--LB DeMarcus Ware should have an advantage on Sunday with the Texans playing a backup at left tackle thanks to the suspension of Duane Brown. The little-used Rashad Butler will start and be baptized by Ware.
--NT Jay Ratliff has missed the past two days of practice attending his grandparents' funeral. They were killed in a house fire last week. He should be back at practice on Friday and play Sunday.
TEXANS PERSONNEL NEWS: WR Andre Johnson, who has been sidelined with a mild ankle sprain, returned to practice on a limited basis. Johnson said there's no way he would miss the Dallas game unless he thought he would hurt his team. Expect him to be on the field, especially since he averages 94.3 yards receiving in 26 games against NFC teams.
--OT Rashad Butler, who starts for the first time in his five-year career, has the quick feet coaches like for tackles on the left side. He's 6-4, 309, but he's got long arms -- the wide wingspan the coaches like. Butler has expressed confidence this week since he's replaced the suspended Duane Brown, but the truth is, no one knows for sure how he'll play because most of his playing time has been in the preseason.
--QB Matt Schaub took a beating at Washington. He was sacked five times, tying a career high, but he was hit at least five more times. As coach Gary Kubiak said, anytime a quarterback throws 52 times, he's going to end up sore. Schaub hasn't missed a rep in practice, though.
--CB Kareem Jackson, who starts opposite Glover Quin, was picked on by Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb in the first two games. Obviously, Dallas' Tony Romo will go after Jackson until the rookie proves he can consistently make plays. Jackson and his teammates in the secondary are trying to keep the Texans from being the first team to surrender three consecutive games with at least 400 yards passing.
--RB Arian Foster and the other backs have been working on blitz pickup. The Redskins blitzed from every angle. Dallas didn't blitz once in preseason, but the Texans expect coach Wade Phillips to design a few for the game. Phillips usually relies on the front seven to get pressure, but based on what he saw on tape of the Washington game, the Texans expect more of the same.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 28-24
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