Entering week seven, the Dallas Cowboys are 2-3 and sit in a pitiful third place in the NFC East. Their cross-state counterpart, the Houston Texans, are in a slightly better position at 3-3 and second in the AFC South. The Cowboys have always been the team of Texas (I know — I used to live there). However, if the Texans continue to play the way they have been playing, they may be the only Texas team to go to the playoffs this season.
In a shootout, the two teams are evenly matched. Everyone knows that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has a good arm, as well as a solid quarterback rating and a two-to-one touchdown-to-interceptions ratio. But Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has had similar stats of late. Over the past two seasons, Schaub has passed for over 9,000 yards and 53 touchdowns.
The Texans boast a veteran receiving corps, led by All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson and his experienced troop of fellow receivers Derrick Mason, Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones. The Cowboys respond with two young, play-making receivers in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Both of these teams are quite scary offensively, but I’d take experience over new faces this season and give the Texans a slight advantage.
The real difference is in the defenses. While the teams’ numbers are almost identical — the organizations sport similar stats in points allowed per game, sacks and interceptions — the players composing Houston’s defense have shown tremendous promise in recent games. The Texans’ rookie linebacker Brooks Reed has 12 tackles in six games, while third-season linebacker Brian Cushing has 41 tackles.
Acquired during the offseason, free safety Danieal Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph have combined for 53 tackles and four interceptions so far. Up in Dallas, with few exceptions, the Cowboys’ secondary defense does not have many playmakers. Sure, veteran cornerback Terence Newman has had a great career, but at age 33, his days are numbered. Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and inside linebacker Sean Lee are both solid, but Houston inside linebackers Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans are better. If I were a coach, I would be envious of the Texans’ defense.
Now let me put this avalanche of information into a historical context. From 1960 to 1996, the Cowboys had some competition from the Houston Oilers, but the majority of Texas football fans supported the Cowboys — the Cowboys were simply always better. The trend continued when the Oilers changed their team name. Since their inception in 2002, the Texans have never won more than nine games in a season and have never won their division. Schaub, an experienced offense and a deep, talented defense all appear to click this year for the Texans, and a playoff run seems in order.
I have faith that the Texans will outplay the Cowboys this year and make it to the playoffs. Let the battle for Texas commence.
Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.