Dallas’ dilemma: Slow Houston’s star WR or RB?
AP Pro Football Writer
IRVING, Texas (AP) – The Dallas Cowboys are tired of hearing they need to try salvaging their Super Bowl hopes following an 0-2 start. All they want to focus on is their next challenge.
Well, that’s pretty daunting too.
Against Houston on Sunday, the Dallas defense faces the dilemma of whether to try slowing the receiver who was just selected the AFC offensive player of the week or the running back who got that honor the week before.
With weapons like that, it’s little wonder the Texans (2-0) go into this game leading the NFL in points, yards and yards rushing.
“It’s time to call 9-1-1,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said Thursday. “It’s emergency, it’s time to get things going.”
Arian Foster introduced himself to Dallas with 110 yards on 18 carries in a preseason game. There was no chance of downgrading that after he ran for a Texans-record 231 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout win over Indianapolis in the opener. He was so good that day, their usual spark plug, Andre Johnson, was an afterthought, catching just three passes.
Against Washington, Johnson stole the show, catching 12 passes for 158 yards despite missing some time because of an ankle injury. Bum wheel and all, he managed to make a leaping catch in the end zone on a fourth-down heave with about 2 minutes left. That touchdown tied the game, leading to a win in overtime.
“He is a bad man,” Dallas receiver Dez Bryant said in awe.
Foster was pretty good against the Redskins, too: 69 yards on 19 carries and 69 more yards receiving.
Offenses generally strive to balance running and passing in the same game. Houston’s ability to dominate different games in each area takes the concept to another extreme.
“One week they run for 300 yards and the next week they throw for 500,” Phillips said. “If you back off – basically, that’s what we did in preseason – they can just tear you up in the running game. If you come after they can throw it. I’m impressed.”
Defense is supposed to be the Cowboys’ specialty. Led by DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff, they kept the Redskins from scoring a touchdown in the opener, then showed some cracks against the Bears last weekend.
Dallas started out great. Then Chicago found a way to slow Dallas’ pass rush and Jay Cutler started moving the ball. He hit his tight end for a blitz-beating touchdown, completed a 59-yard pass down the middle of the field and set up a late touchdown when a short throw to Devin Hester turned into a long gain because of his speedy run through several would-be tackles.
The Bears didn’t get much out of their other drives, but those big plays were enough for a 27-20 victory.
“It comes down to making plays, something we’ve been doing since Little League,” safety Gerald Sensabaugh said. “We just aren’t doing it. We are missing opportunities. … We’ve looked good in spurts. Then it’s like, ahhh.”
The Cowboys have consistently applied pressure, but have only two sacks. They’re still seeking their first turnover.
Perhaps the best way to slow Houston’s passing game is getting to the triggerman, quarterback Matt Schaub.
He’s already been sacked seven times. His protection weakened this week with starting left tackle Duane Brown getting suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Still, with weapons such as Foster and Johnson, he’s able to keep defenses guessing. Foster’s emergence also has made Houston’s play-action passing more effective.
The Texans also do a good job moving Johnson all over the field. After watching the Chicago video, Houston coach Gary Kubiak may have a few more ideas.
The Cowboys rarely use one cornerback to shadow a receiver. Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, who were both Pro Bowlers last year, will just have to be ready whenever Johnson comes their way.
Jenkins made several nice plays to break up passes against Washington. Against Chicago, he was beaten on the 59-yarder, then bruised a knee trying to make one of the failed tackles on Hester. He’s been limited in practice this week, but “he wasn’t limping,” Phillips said.
Then again, against a guy such as Johnson, everyone has to help.
“He’s in that discussion as far as being one of the best in this league,” linebacker Keith Brooking said. “What we’re focused on is keeping him in front of us and not allowing that big play to take place.”