Heartbreaker in Houston: 5 Thoughts on Overtime Loss to Texans

by | Oct 8, 2018 | Articles, The League, The Team

Luckily this is a short flight from Houston to DFW on the team charter; it’s awfully quiet and no fun when you’re returning home after a loss, especially an overtime heartbreaker to your in-state rival! Here are my “5 Observations from the Sideline” following the Cowboys’ 19-16 loss to the Texans in OT on Sunday Night Football.

Eric Christian Smith via AP

01.

Coach Garrett’s Decision to Punt on 4th & 1 in Overtime

Head Coach Jason Garrett is getting crushed by fans and media for his decision to punt the ball on 4th & 1 at the Texans’ 42-yard line during overtime. Garrett expects second-guessing, especially after a loss.

For every person who calls into sports talk radio shows (or vents on the internet or social media) about Coach Garrett’s decision to punt the ball in overtime facing 4th & 1, here’s a question: Did you see the first 64 ½ minutes of the game?

The Cowboys had not been able to run the ball most of the night. Ezekiel Elliott was continually stuffed at the line of scrimmage, including on 3rd & 1 in overtime. He also gimped off the field earlier in the series with his sore ankle.

The decision to punt is an easy second-guess, especially with hindsight being 20/20. The Texans’ offense would get a big pass completion in the ensuing possession to set up their game-winning field goal.

Garrett and the Cowboys like to say their offensive identity is a strong run game behind their strong offensive line. But if that’s their bread-and-butter, they didn’t play to their strength and decided to punt instead of imposing their will on 4th and 1.

But at the time, the Cowboys’ defense was the unit that had carried the game into overtime. The Cowboys offense was not able to consistently run the ball against the Texans defensive front. And once again, the Cowboys struggled mightily in the passing game. The Texans defense keyed on Zeke who was limited to 52 yards on 20 carries, a pathetic (by his standards) average of 2.7 yards-per-carry. In overtime, Zeke carried 3 times for 3 yards.

The decision was made by Garrett to put the game in the hands of the Cowboys’ defense in overtime. Chris Jones’ punt pinned the Texans to their own 10-yard line. If the defense could force a punt, the Cowboys’ offense would be set up near midfield.

The Cowboys defense had done a good job for most of the night in limiting big plays. Then a special player, Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, made the biggest play of the game.

02.

DeAndre Hopkins, Whirling Dervish on Run-after-catch

Hopkins’ 49-yard catch which set up the game-winning field goal should have been a 15-yard gain.

David J. Phillip via AP

Instead, Hopkins’ run-after-catch was a whirling spectacle as he broke tackles and kept spinning and moving downfield.

On the completion to Hopkins, cornerback Anthony Brown undercut the route. Brown went beneath Hopkins to knock the pass away, but the ball was just high enough to get over Brown. Hopkins reached out for the catch, then put on a show worthy of his All-Pro pedigree. Hopkins was able to run all the way down to the Cowboys’ 27-yard line for a 49-yard gain. Three plays later, Fairbairn kicked a 36-yard field goal with 1:50 remaining on the clock to give the Texans the win.

Texans QB Deshaun Watson had a terrific game. And his wide receivers continually made plays for him. The same can’t be said for the Cowboys.

David J. Phillip via AP

03.

Cowboys’ Pass Offense Continues to Struggle

The biggest play in the Cowboys passing game was a 44-yard pass to Tavon Austin which set up a game-tying field goal by Brett Maher with just over 5 minutes to play in the 4th quarter. Give the credit to Dak Prescott who made a herculean effort to avoid a sack by J.J. Watt. Not only did Dak get away from Watt, Dak sprinted towards the left sideline and uncorked a long pass to Austin.

It was a tremendous play by Dak, and good effort by Austin who stuck with the play and helped his QB.

But on the whole, there is too little production from Cowboys wide receivers. Altogether, Cowboys wide receivers caught only 6 passes on 16 targets. Deonte Thompson had two catches; he was the only wide receiver to catch more than 1 pass. Cole Beasley didn’t have a catch until overtime. Dak was intercepted twice and both times the ball was deflected off wide receivers (Austin & Thompson).

The Texans defensive backfield had been decimated by injuries to cornerbacks, yet the Cowboys couldn’t exploit the ravaged secondary. Give credit to the Texans’ pass rush…but 6 completions to wide receivers? Come on!

Dak has to be more accurate. The receivers were having to adjust to too many passes. And other times, it looked like receivers were open, but Dak either missed them, was throwing under duress, or came off the receiver too early.

Hey, there is plenty of blame to spread around when it comes to the passing game.

But on this night when the Cowboys ground game could not consistently grind out yards, the passing game needed to produce. It didn’t.

Because the run game couldn’t produce on 1st and 2nd downs, there were longer down-and-distance situations on 3rd down. In what is sounding like a broken record this season, the Cowboys’ 3rd down conversion rate was bad (only 4 of 14 on this night, 29%).

Once again, running back Zeke Elliott was the leading receiver for the Cowboys. He caught all 7 of the passes targeted to him, but those 7 catches resulted in only 30 yards. We love Zeke and we want him involved in the passing game, but let’s get the ball to guys like Beasley.

Tight End Geoff Swaim had a good night receiving (3 catches, 3 targets , 55 yards) including a really impressive shoe-top catch on a pass that was thrown very low to the ground. And Rico Gathers (1 catch, 1 target) recorded his first NFL reception for 32 yards. Blake Jarwin also caught his first NFL pass, an 11 yard reception. So, the tight ends were more involved in the action this week.

Wide Receiver Allen Hurns scored his first touchdown as a Cowboy on a 3-yard touchdown catch in the 3rd quarter, but it was the only touchdown scored by the offense against the Texans.

David J. Phillip via AP

04.

Goal Line Stands

The Cowboys defense played valiantly, particularly with multiple goal line stands. When Middle Linebacker Jaylon Smith sprinted to his left and hauled down Deshaun Watson on 4th & goal at the 1-yard line on the final play of the first half, it was a thing of beauty! Smith’s terrific tackle was set up by Safety Jeff Heath who, on the previous play, made a big hit on a completion to Hopkins to stop him short of the goal line.

That huge play by Smith to end the 2nd quarter was the most fired-up I’ve seen the Cowboys’ bench in a long time. Rightfully so, it was a great effort by the entire defense!

Fast forward to the 4th quarter. Cowboys Cornerback Byron Jones was called for pass interference on Hopkins in the end zone. The penalty gave the Texans the ball 1st and goal at the 1-yard line. Terrific plays by Defensive Tackles Tyrone Crawford and Antwaun Woods helped thwart the Texans on first and seconds downs, including a QB keeper by Watson on second down. On third down, Heath made a pass breakup in the end zone. The Texans had to settle for a field goal.

This was a gritty, determined effort by the Cowboys defense. All night, not just in the red zone. When Hopkins broke free in overtime with his long run-after-catch, who was sprinting 40 yards downfield to help with the tackle? Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence. It was that kind of game…great effort and hustle. But once again, a strong performance by the defense goes for naught because the Cowboys offense could manage only 1 touchdown and three times had to settle for field goals.

David J. Phillip via AP

05.

Whoa, I Am Now a Huge Fan of Texans QB DeShaun Watson

I was really looking forward to this game because it was my first chance to see Deshaun Watson in-person.

Wow, this guy is the real deal. It’s hard to believe that he’s only 11 months removed from a knee injury (torn ACL) that ended his rookie season prematurely. He’s so fluid and throws really well on the run. Before the game, Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli told me how much he admired Watson and the way he could throw accurately while avoiding a pass rush, even on a dead sprint.

Watson completed 33 passes for 375 yards. Yes, he got a lot of help from DeAndre Hopkins with yards-after-catch. Tight End Ryan Griffin also had a big night with 6 catches.

But beyond the completions, the thing that impressed me was Watson’s toughness. He took a licking from the Cowboys’ defense and kept coming back for more.

Final thoughts…

This was a really fun game to watch from the sideline because both defenses played with such tenacity. And the offensive linemen showed a lot of grit in the battles along the line of scrimmage. This was one of the hardest-hitting football games you’ll see in the NFL this season.

But the Texans made the big play in overtime with Hopkins’ run-after-catch, and they get the victory to improve to 2-3 on the season. Meanwhile the Cowboys fall to 2 and 3.

And guess what’s next for the Cowboys? The Jaguars come to Arlington on Sunday, and they have one of the top defenses in the NFL. It’s going to be another slugfest this coming weekend, so there is no rest for the weary.