1. First down performance: It’s not a surprise to say that the offense has been struggling. While the Cowboys have quick strike elements in Austin and Bryant, they are a methodical drive the length of the field in 15+ plays style of offense. However, if they face a 2nd and 10, their style of play becomes a liability. Average yards gained is a deceptive statistic. A runner can have one 40 yard gain and 7 runs for no gain. The result is still a 5 yard per carry average. After 2 games the Cowboys are averaging 3.3 yards per carry. The longest run logged in this short season is a 12 yard carry. There’s nothing deceptive about the average. The Cowboys have been a poor running team in two games.
2. Offensive penalties: As every Cowboys fans know, a first down penalty that brings up 1st and 15 or 1st and 20 can short circuit a drive. A penalty that negates a first down or a good gain can not only short circuit a drive, but it can prove demoralizing. The Cowboys have had an affinity for penalties dating back to Bill Parcells‘s tenure with the Cowboys. The Cowboys must be focused to beat a Texan team that will come out with a great deal of intensity and the best way to eliminate the Texan crowd is a long prolonged drive down the field.
3. Coaching: Wade Phillips has avoided memorable lapses in judgement during his tenure as Cowboys coach. His first week blunder (shared with Jason Garrett) to move the ball with 30 seconds on the clock and zero timeouts proved fatal. There is palpable pressure on the Cowboys coaching staff from the media, from the owners, from the fans. The worst thing that can happen is if Phillips makes atypical calls, e.g. going for 2 points when unnecessary or going for a first down on a 4th and 10. When a team falls behind, it requires a steady hand to guide it. A 10 point deficit isn’t insurmountable. A 10 point deficit that becomes a 17 point deficit can be demoralizing and consequently insurmountable.
4. Mario Williams and Co.: When Romo is under constant harassment, he is a different quarterback. So is Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The big difference between the three is that Romo is facing an 0-3 start. Williams is a great player on par with DeMarcus Ware. If Free or Colombo are not able to handle Williams individually, Garrett absolutely must game plan the pressure out of the game. Calling a multitude of run plays, play action, bootlegs, screens, and bubble screens should slow down the pass rushers.
5. The Texans offense: The Texans run a west coast offense. The Cowboys have a substantial amount of experience defending against the west coast offense from playing against the Redskins and Eagles in recent years. While the Cowboys may have experience against teams like the Eagles, DeSean Jackson is not in the same stratosphere as Andre Johnson. Johnson can dominate a game (regardless of his ankle injury). With Newman being a good cornerback, but not a shut down corner, and with Jenkins mending from a bruised knee, the game can get out of hand quickly.The Texans offense can by dynamic and explosive. It would be devastating if the Cowboys offense finally gets into rhythm scoring 35 points only to lose because the Texans racked up 38 points.
6. Buehler, Buehler, Buehler: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, though you can make a leather change purse. Jones may have confidence in Buehler in public, but there is no doubt that he has Matt Stover‘s phone number on speed dial.