The Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans each got important wins last week, but who will keep the momentum going in Week 5?
The Sunday night NFL stage will belong to Texas in Week 5, as the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans try to build off narrow wins in Week 4. The Texans put their first mark in the win column this year with a 37-34 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts, while the Cowboys seemed to find an obvious formula offensively with a 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions to even their record at 2-2.
Deshaun Watson has been under siege this season behind a leaky offensive line, with 17 sacks taken and 43 hits absorbed through four games. That puts him on pace to take 68 sacks this year, which would be tied for the third-highest single-season total in league history. History shows that kind of hit volume is simply unsustainable. But Watson has taken some blame for the offensive lines struggles, and his mobility adds to the challenge a talent-deficient unit has to protecting him.
After a poor performance in Week 1, Watson has topped 300 passing yards in three straight games. He also had multiple touchdowns through the air and completed at least 60 percent of his passes in all three.
The Cowboys offensive identity should be running back Ezekiel Elliott, and that came to full bloom against the Lions as he had 29 touches (25 carries) for a career-best 240 total yards (152 rushing). The route he ran on a 34-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal shows he can be used as more than a screen and dump-off guy. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing through four weeks (426 yards), and by a good margin over Todd Gurley (338 yards). He is reportedly dealing with knee and ankle issues, but by all accounts Elliott will play Sunday night without incident and be in line for another big workload.
Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence leads the NFL in sacks with 5.5, followed by J.J. Watt as one of three guys tied for second with five sacks. So the two offensive lines on Sunday night, which are allowing the two worst sack rates per pass attempt in the league (Texans at 11.49 percent; 12.17 percent for the Cowboys), will be challenged to keep two mobile quarterbacks clean.
Dak Prescott topped 200 passing yards for the first time since Week 15 last year against Detroit, while averaging a nice 9.4 yards per attempt. Talk internally of unleashing the offense came off as overblown, and it didn’t really come to fruition last week. But alongside more touch volume for Elliott, not coincidentally, Prescott had his best game of the season with his 17 completions going to eight different receivers.
The Texans and Cowboys both needed a win desperately last week, and were able to get it done to quell some early season negative momentum. But the positive vibe will be short-lived for the losing team Sunday night, with the margin of error sure to be slim in what is lining up to be a close game.