KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
SERIES: 2nd meeting. Texans lead the series 1-0. The Texans used a 65-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Corey Bradford and a safety by defensive tackle Seth Payne to secure the 19-10 victory.
2006 RANKINGS: Texans: offense 28th (29th rush, 21st pass); defense 32nd (25th rush, 32nd pass). Cowboys: offense 5th (3rd rush, 12th pass); defense 9th (5th rush, 20th pass)
PREDICTION: Cowboys 30-14
KEYS TO THE GAME: Texans QB David Carr has been effective working downfield to WRs Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds this season. But the Cowboys have an extremely fast front seven and Carr won't have enough time to look downfield unless the Texans are able to establish an effective running game behind RB Ron Dayne. If Carr does have time, expect several deep shots with Dallas Ss Roy Williams and Pat Watkins, whose job is on shaky ground, allowing too many big plays in coverage. This could be the breakout game Cowboys WR Terrell Owens so badly wants. He'll likely draw double teams, but the Texans' secondary has been porous all season. Houston's only true defense against the pass is to generate consistent pressure. The Cowboys struggled to protect QB Drew Bledsoe last weekend and the Texans will no doubt spend countless hours trying to devise blitz packages to get after him.
FAST FACTS: Texans: Won the only previous meeting, 19-10, in the franchise's first game in 2002. ... Johnson has at least 100 receiving yards in three of four games this season. Cowboys: With win, Bill Parcells will join Tony Dungy and Mike Shanahan as only the third coach to defeat all 32 current franchises. ... For his career, RB Julius Jones averages 103.8 rushing yards when he receives at least 20 carries.
--CB Demarcus Faggins practiced with the team again and is trying to get back into game shape. Coach Gary Kubiak said he should be ready to play next week against the Jaguars.
--DE Mario Williams will again have moves scripted for him when the Texans play the Cowboys. The coaches did the same thing against the Dolphins, and Williams finished with 1.5 sacks.
--DB Dunta Robinson is slated to match up against Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens this week. Robinson lines up on the left side.
--TE Owen Daniels remains the starter despite the presence of veterans Mark Bruener and Jeb Putzier. Daniels is a dual-threat tight end who can block well and catch the ball.
--FB Vonta Leach is expected to play special teams and line up at fullback despite just joining the team on Monday.
--TE Ryan Hannam has been placed on injured reserve because of a nagging knee injury that has bothered him since training camp. Hannam, a free agent signee from Seattle, has been inactive for two games this season.
--K Shaun Suisham has been released. He was active for two games as a kickoff specialist, but he struggled Sunday against the Eagles. Mike Vanderjagt will handle field goals and kickoffs from now on.
--T Marc Colombo has been a pleasant surprise at right tackle. A question mark coming into the season based on his history as a first round bust with the Bears, Colombo has yet to allow a sack.
--FS Pat Watkins is splitting time in practice with backup Keith Davis. The Cowboys don't know who will start against the Texans, as they are trying to gauge Watkins' confidence level after he struggled last Sunday against the Eagles. Coach Bill Parcells said Watkins has trouble finding the ball and didn't see the ball leaving the quarterback's hands enough, a priority if he is going to be playing in the middle of the field.
--WR Terrell Owens and Bengals WR Chad Johnson became fast friends over the past few years because of their dominant play and outlandish end-zone celebrations.
Both have been strangely silent this year, as they have struggled to get the ball and get in the end zone.
Owens has 17 catches for 232 yards and one touchdown, while Johnson has 18 catches for 201 yards and one score.
The two have shared their frustrations during weekly phone calls.
"We are both going through it," Owens said. "He will call and vent. I call and vent."
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
When the Texans line up against the Cowboys' 3-4 defense this week, it will hardly be foreign to them.
For four seasons, the Texans used the same scheme. It didn't work out so well for them. The Texans finished the 2003 and 2005 seasons ranked 31st out of 32 NFL teams in total defense. Their most impressive finish was 2002, when they ranked 16th.
The Cowboys haven't had similar struggles making the 3-4 work. Now in their third season of using the scheme, the Cowboys rank ninth in total defense. They are fifth against the run, allowing just 75.3 yards per game.
"If you play the 3-4 and have good personnel, it's a great defense," right tackle Zach Wiegert said. "They are all very gap-sound. They are all smart players. They don't do a ton of stuff, but they just do what they do really well."
For a team needing to get its running game going, Texas Stadium is not the ideal place to visit. The Texans are 29th in the league, averaging just 76 yards rushing per game. Trying to improve upon that against the Cowboys' front seven is a daunting task.
Marcus Spears, Jason Ferguson and Chris Canty man the front for Dallas, and the Texans also will have to deal with outside linebackers Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware and inside linebackers Akin Ayodele and Bradie James.
"They have some big, talented players out there, and they create mismatches for your backs and even for your tackles," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "(Cowboys coach Bill Parcells) built a heck of a crew over there. And their back end, starting with the safety (Roy Williams) and the corner (Terence Newman), they're as good as there is in this business."
The Texans have quickly learned the Cowboys are committed to making sure they stop the run. If an opponent starts finding success with its ground game, the Cowboys add Williams to the front seven, making it almost impossible for running backs to break away for many yards.
"You always have to look for him because he's like another linebacker on the field," Wiegert said of Williams.
If you are looking for a Cowboys bright spot on offense through four games, then look no further than running back Julius Jones and the ground attack.
After finishing 13th in the league last year and averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, the Cowboys now have the third-ranked rushing offense in the league.
They are averaging 147.3 rushing yards per game.
Only once in the first four games have they been held to fewer than 100 yards, and that was the season opener.
The ground attack has busted out since. Nobody has been hotter the past two weeks than Jones, who has back-to-back 100-yard games included in his season total of 388 yards.
That number could move to three 100-yard games in a row with the lowly Texans up next.
Coach Bill Parcells said he's happy about the production from the running game, and he's pleased with Jones' performance.
"He's seeing things better. I think he's running with his eyes, he's not just relying on his instincts, he's more patient," Parcells said. "He's bursting at the right time. He's not conceding runs. He's looks like a much more experienced back, he really does."
Jones is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, good for second in the NFC behind San Francisco's Frank Gore.
Jones is not only a more knowledgeable back, but he's healthy and fresh after suffering through injuries his first two seasons.
Parcells plans on keeping it that way, as he will continue to limit Jones' carries by using backup Marion Barber as a change-of-pace back.
"After a while you just know they are going to make the right cut, you just know he's going to make the right decision," Parcells said of Jones. "He's really improved on that a lot.
"And the most important thing, he's not having too many minus plays."
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