Cowboys expose Texans' flaws with season-saving road win
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Things we learned from the Cowboys' perhaps season-saving win over the Texans at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.
1. The 'Tyler Rose' obviously loved what he saw at Reliant Stadium ... but not as much as his old coach's son loved it. This Cowboys' win over their in-state rivals may well have saved someone's job in Dallas. Earl Campbell, undoubtedly the most beloved Houston football legend, watched his first Houston-Dallas NFL game in-person since he played for the Oilers. He knew the stakes for Wade Phillips and was somewhat torn, since he calls the Texans, "my team," but remains great friends with Phillips' father, former Oilers coach Bum Phillips.
Campbell was looking forward to watching touted Texans youngster Arian Foster carry the ball in person, and always has been impressed with the Cowboys' backs, who had struggled this season entering the game. Foster did not disappoint, carrying the ball 17 times for 106 yards for Houston. And the Cowboys' rushing game struggled no more, with Marion Barber and Felix Jones churning out tough yards on first and second downs, setting up the play-action for Tony Romo perfectly, and preserving the victory with fourth-quarter runs. With the win, Wade Phillips avoids the 0-3 start and surely staves off calls for his head -- for at least another week.
2. The "Dez Factor" just may be what shakes the Cowboys out of their early-season doldrums ... and Roy Williams still knows how to break free. The headline receivers in this Texas Showdown were Andre Johnson and Miles Austin. They entered as arguably the two best wideouts in the game. They certainly were two of the best-compensated wideouts, both signing new deals recently. But there was no doubt this was a statement-type game for Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant, who finished with four catches for 50 yards while emerging as a go-to guy in clutch situations. And rumors of Roy Williams' demise proved to be greatly exaggerated. Williams torched the Texans for 117 yards and two touchdowns on five catches. Going into the game, Williams had just seven catches for 74 yards in a pair of Cowboys losses.
3. The Texans' secondary, specifically first-round draft pick Kareem Jackson out of Alabama, clearly have issues. The Texans may have bolted from the gate 2-0, but it was no thanks to the defensive secondary, which gave up more than 400 yards passing to both Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb. The struggling Cowboys came to town and just may have saved their season by slicing up the Texans secondary again. The biggest victim? Rookie Kareem Jackson, who was consistently was picked on by Romo. On both the Cowboys' first touchdown drives, Romo completed crucial third-down passes on Jackson. And the clinching score -- a 63-yard strike to Williams against Jackson, who was undressed by a line-of-scrimmage move, leaving Williams wide open for the game-breaker. This was the third consecutive game in which the biggest victim of opponents' passing success has been the rookie. Think the Texans' secondary misses Dunta Robinson, who was traded in the offseason?
4. The Texans managed to survive one four-game suspension ... but not two. The biggest offseason story affecting the Texans was the four-game suspension for failing an NFL drug test of linebacker Brian Cushing, arguably the Texans' best defensive player and the 2009 NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. The Texans' managed to go 2-0 despite Cushing's absence in their first two games. But last week, the Texans also saw starting left tackle Duane Brown earn a four-game suspension for failing an NFL drug test. And the Cowboys, namely rush-end DeMarcus Ware, pounced. Ware came away with three sacks in the game, along with three other tackles. The pressure Ware put on Schaub was immeasurable. And with Brown out of the lineup, the entire Texans offensive front looked out of sync, with the typically reliable right tackle Eric Winston getting flagged for two holding calls and an untimely illegal procedure call deep in Cowboys' territory.
5. Cowboys kicker David Buehler could not have come up more clutch. If you play for Dallas and Jerry Jones, your job always seems to be on the line. Just ask Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. But outside of that pair of coaches, no one has been more scrutinized -- and on the hot seat -- more than Buehler. The focus was so much that the biggest headline in the Metroplex last week was Buehler missing four of five field goals in practice. And when Phillips passed on what could have been a 49-yarder in the first quarter, you had to wonder just how much confidence Phillips had in his embattled kicker. But Buehler made one of the more unheralded plays in the game by punching through a 49-yarder on the last play of the first half, staking the Cowboys to a 10-3 lead. Buehler also notched a big kick in the second half, putting the game out of reach for good with a 40-yarder.
John P. Lopez is a columnist and sports talk host in Houston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.