Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Locher/AP/Shutterstock (13489125ak) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, in Las Vegas Texans Raiders Football, Las Vegas, United States – 23 Oct 2022
The Texans are the worst team in the NFL with a 1-10-1 record, including a seven-game losing streak, going on the road to play the Cowboys, one of the hottest teams in the league with a 9-3 record that includes five victories in six games and three in a row. Here are five plot lines involving Sunday’s game at AT&T Stadium.
MILLS SHOULD PREPARE TO BE BESIEGED
Under Pep Hamilton, the Texans’ offense has been frightful, allowing four touchdowns on turnovers in the last three games. Hamilton is turning back to Davis Mills as his starting quarterback. Mills was benched for poor play. Now Mills is back in the lineup in place of Kyle Allen, whose play was pitiful in his two starts. The Texans are last in offense (279.3 yards) and next to last in scoring (15.6 points). The Cowboys are fifth in defense (309.6), including second against the pass (179.8). They give up an average of 17.2 points.
Mills could be playing without starting receivers Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins, both of whom didn’t practice this week because of injuries. Expect Mills to be under constant pressure. The Cowboys lead the NFL with 48 sacks. They have four players with at least five sacks, including a team-leading 12 by edge rusher Micah Parsons. Dorance Armstrong has eight, DeMarcus Lawrence six, and Dante Fowler Jr. five. The Texans have only one player with as many as four sacks, Jerry Hughes with eight.
Hamilton better be prepared to let Mills throw while rolling out and to take short drops and use a quick release or he’s going to get destroyed by the league’s fiercest pass rush.
SLOW STARTS DERAIL OFFENSE
Guess which team has scored the fewest points in the first quarter this season? If you guessed the Texans, go to the head of the class. Pep Hamilton’s offense has scored 20 points in the first quarter of 12 games. Even the Broncos, the only team with fewer points than the Texans, have scored 42 in the opening quarter. The Texans, who are minus-99 in point differential, have scored once on their opening drive on a touchdown in the loss to the Eagles.
Not shocking considering their 9-3 record, the Cowboys have scored 63 points in the first quarter, and they’ve given up 31. Overall, they’re plus-127. This game is over before it starts. It’s just a matter of how decisive Dallas coach Mike McCarthy wants to make it.
MOST DECISIVE LOSS OF THE SEASON?
The Cowboys are favored by 17 points. The Texans’ most lopsided loss was 18 points (38-20) at Las Vegas. They’ve lost by double digits in four of their last five games, including the last three. The Texans are the league’s worst team because their offense has been inept. That’s one reason they’re switching back to Mills over Allen.
How bad can it get? In the Cowboys’ last four games, quarterback Dak Prescott has helped them average 42.8 points. In the Texans’ last four games, they’ve averaged 13.7. Dallas scored 49, 40, 28, and 54 points in its previous four games. In the 54-19 victory over the Colts, the Cowboys scored 33 points in the fourth quarter. The Texans haven’t come close to scoring 33 points this season. Their season high was 24 in a 34-24 loss to the Chargers on Oct. 2. They haven’t scored more than 17 points in their last six games.
Even if the Cowboys show up bored or look ahead to – uh, Jacksonville – or beyond to Philadelphia, they still should be able to blow out the lowly Texans, a team that gets worse by the week.
RUNNING GAMES COULD PRODUCE BIG YARDS
The Texans still have the worst run defense in the league, allowing 169.1 yards rushing. The Cowboys are seventh in rushing with 145.9 yards a game.
The Cowboys have the NFL’s best one-two punch in Tony Pollard and Zeke Elliott. Pollard has rushed for 852 yards (5.8 a carry) and eight touchdowns. Elliott has 654 yards (4.2 average) and eight touchdowns. The Cowboys are so successful close to the end zone that Pollard and Elliott have combined for 16 touchdowns rushing.
As for the Texans, well, the offense has run for five touchdowns, three by Dameon Pierce. Opponents have rushed for 15 touchdowns. While the Texans are last against the run, the Cowboys are 24th, surrendering 129.8 yards a game. That means Pierce might have a chance to be productive. There’s one problem: His offensive line has done a poor job of run blocking. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game since the Philadelphia loss that was so long ago it was played during the World Series. Still, Pierce has 861 yards and a 4.3-yard average per carry despite not finding a lot of daylight when he gets the ball.
PASS DEFENSE TO BE SEVERELY CHALLENGED
Here’s an interesting statistic. The Broncos and Texans, the two lowest-scoring teams in the league, have allowed the fewest touchdown passes. The Broncos have allowed nine and the Texans 10. Opposing quarterbacks have an 84.3 rating against the Texans. Of the eight teams with lower opposing quarterback ratings, only the Browns have a losing record. Obviously, that statistic doesn’t translate into victories for the Texans.
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who was injured earlier in the season, has 13 touchdown passes, seven interceptions, and a 96.1 rating. Lovie Smith knows his secondary must provide terrific coverage to keep Prescott and his favorite receiver, Houston native CeeDee Lamb (69 catches, 928 yards, six touchdowns) from burning them.
Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. is going to miss a fourth consecutive game because of a hamstring injury. The Texans still have three capable cornerbacks in Steven Nelson, Desmond King II, and Tavierre Thomas.
(John McClain writes four times a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).