COWBOYS VS. TEXANS PREVIEW: Texas showdown on Sunday night

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) makes a catch late in the fourth quarter against Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) at AT&T Stadium.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas offense try to keep up good vibes.

The Cowboys travel to Houston to play the Texans on Sunday Night Football. Houston is a three-point favorite and there's a key trend in the Texans' favor. Dallas has lost on odd weeks this season on the road against dual-threat quarterbacks. That's good news for Houston QB Deshaun Watson and his teammates.

Here are some more particulars:

SERIES HISTORY: 5th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead, 3-1. The Texans christened their franchise by defeating the Cowboys, 19-10, in their first ever NFL regular season game. But since then, the Cowboys have won three straight. Last time they saw each other, the Cowboys needed overtime to grasp a 20-17 overtime victory in 2014.

BY THE NUMBERS: 137.8 – Ezekiel Elliott’s total yards per game this season, third in the NFL among non-QBs. Elliott boosted the total on Sunday by rushing for 152 yards and catching 4 passes for 88 yards in the Cowboys’ win over the Lions.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: WR Cole Beasley has emerged as the Cowboys’ leading receiver with a team-high 16 catches for 185 yards through four games. Beasley has long been a valued possession receiver for the Cowboys. He’s yet to score his first TD of this season and hasn’t found the end zone since he scored twice against the Chiefs on the first weekend of November in 2017.

GAME PLAN: The Cowboys have the makings of an efficient offense, especially when Ezekiel Elliott is finding running room. But in order for it to function properly, Dallas has to stay ahead of the chains and create third-and-short situations on a regular basis. Any departure from that — whether it’s because Texans DEs J.J. Watt or Jadeveon Clowney upset the schedule or because of penalties — causes the Cowboys to struggle to score. So gaining yards on first down and playing a clean game are non-negotiables for Dallas on offense.

Defensively, Dallas has to step up its game against a dual-threat QB. Carolina’s Cam Newton made plays against Dallas in the running game and Seattle’s Russell Wilson burned the Cowboys with a couple of well-timed TD passes. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson could do either or both, so the Cowboys have to find a way to frustrate him.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Cowboys LBs vs. Texans QB Deshaun Watson. For the third time in five games, the Cowboys face a dual-threat quarterback. Watson passed for 375 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 41 yards and a score in leading the Texans to a 37-34 overtime victory in Indianapolis on Sunday. He’s now passed for more than 300 yards in three straight games. With Sean Lee likely still out with a hamstring injury, rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch and the upstart Jaylon Smith will need to help make Watson one-dimensional. Playing dual-threat QBs hasn’t gone well for the Cowboys, though, as Carolina’s Cam Newton and Seattle’s Russell Wilson each made key plays in their teams’ wins. Dallas kept Wilson from getting out as a runner, but he burned the Cowboys defense with TD passes of 16 and 52 yards that made the difference in the game.

Cowboys O-line vs. Texans D-linemen J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. A trend has emerged through four games that clearly indicates the Cowboys offense is efficient enough when things go according to script in the down-and-distance category. But when opponents get Dallas behind the chains, the Cowboys can’t dig out of those holes and their production drops to zero. Enter Houston pass rushers J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, two of the best in the business in terms of disrupting offenses’ down-and-distance situation. The Cowboys have to have a clean game, minimizing sacks, penalties and turnovers, and that means it will be vital for Dallas’s front line on offense to keep Watt, Clowney and company from making plays in the backfield.

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