Despite their relative close proximity, the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys don’t get the chance to get together for a friendly game of football very often. The Cowboys reside in the NFC, the Texans in the AFC, so their paths cross just once every several years. Once again, an interstate matchup is missing from the schedule this season. Unless, of course, both Texas teams meet up in New Orleans for the Super Bowl next February, but that would never happen, would it?
Don’t be so sure.
With NFL news outlets scraping and clawing for stories in what can be described as drought season for news in the NFL, I, like many others, have had plenty of time to dream about the upcoming season and imagine different scenarios. The idea of a Texans verse Cowboys Super Bowl has always intrigued me, but up until this year, I’ve never been able to realistically see it happening. However, the Texans were a healthy quarterback away from making a run at the big game last year, and the Cowboys already have a Super Bowl-caliber offense to go along with their revamped defense heading into 2013. If you think it’s impossible, think again.
The Texans Are Deep
Let’s start with the Houston Texans. The Texans came oh-so-close to making a deep playoff run in the 2012 playoffs with 3rd string, rookie quarterback T.J. Yates leading the way, large in part thanks to their suffocating defense, which shut down the Bengals and Ravens with outstanding play from its front seven and secondary.
The Texans were ousted in the Divisional Round by the Baltimore Ravens due to four turnovers, which they simply were not able to overcome, although they kept the game close until the end. Special teams blunders from the now departed Jacoby Jones got things off on the wrong foot, and after falling behind early, rookie QB T.J. Yates was thrust into forcing the action, consequently forcing bad passes. The Ravens capitalized by picking off three passes and putting an end to the Texans’ season, although Arian Foster ran wild, going for 156 yards against a very, very good Ravens’ rush defense.
It’s safe to say that had the Texans had Matt Schaub under center, things could have turned out much differently in Baltimore, as the Texans’ defensive line simply dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the game, and the season, for that matter.
While the Texans did lose Mario Williams to the Bills in free agency, he only played five games last season anyhow, so the Texans have proven they can play championship-caliber defense without him. Houston added outside linebacker and fumble-forcing extraordinaire Whitney Mercilus in the 1st round of the draft in April, adding to their deadly arsenal of pass rushing weapons. Jared Crick, an underrated defense end, was also added to the mix, increasing the depth of an already-potent defense headed by Wade Phillips.
Offensively, the Texans once again bring the two-headed monster of Arian Foster and Ben Tate to the table. Foster and Tate combined to rush for 2,166 yards and 14 touchdowns in the 2011-2012 campaign, dissecting the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. The biggest additions, of course, will be the healthy return of Pro-Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub and All-Pro wide out Andre Johnson.
Andre Johnson returned for the playoffs, proving in the process just how good he is even when not at full strength and playing with a rookie quarterback. With T.J. Yates under center, a “rusty” Johnson hauled in 13 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown in the Texans’ two playoff games in 2012, proving just how vital his health is to the team.
Schaub, meanwhile, played in just 9 games in 2012 after being knocked out for the season in a game against Tampa Bay with a Lisfranc injury that required major surgery. Schaub was on pace for another 4,000 yard season. He finished the year with 2,479 yards, 15 TD’s, and just 6 INT’s in nine games.
The Texans have focused their offseason on getting Johnson and Schaub healthy, while simultaneously replenishing some of the depth that was lost due to cap casualties such as Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel. The depth is there, and now the only thing standing in the way of the Houston Texans’ path to the Super Bowl is their selves. If Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub can make it through the 2012-2013 season unscathed, we are halfway to a Texans and Cowboys Super Bowl.
Sense of Urgency In Dallas
Unlike the Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys did not have the pleasure of making it to the NFL playoffs in 2012, as they watched the divisional rival New York Giants roll through the playoffs to take home the coveted Lombardi Trophy.
There is no denying that the Cowboys have a very talented offense. Dallas put up points with the best of them behind quarterback Tony Romo and a slew of talented receiving options in Jason Witten, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant. The Cowboys finished 7th in the NFL in passing as Romo threw for 4,184 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Had it not been for an unfortunate injury to rookie sensation Demarco Murray, the Cowboys’ rushing numbers could have finished much higher, as well. After taking the NFL by storm with 824 rushing yards in his 8 games after winning the starting running back role, Murray went down for the season in a regular season loss to the New York Giants, the game that proved to be the proverbial nail in the coffin of the Cowboys’ ill-fated season. Murray, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season, will be back and ready for 2012-2013, looking to put the finishing touches on what is already a very good Cowboys’ offense.
I feel that I cannot mention the 2011-2012 Cowboys without pointing out the white elephant in the room: The Dallas Cowboys secondary. To say that the Cowboys’ passing defense was bad last year would be an understatement. It’s not often that a single unit on a team costs their team an entire season, but the Dallas secondary earned that honor this past year.
Jerry Jones and Cowboys’ management knew it, and they made the right call this offseason by relentlessly addressing their biggest issue. Not only did the Cowboys bring in the best free agent cornerback on the market in Brandon Carr, but they boldly traded up to the #6 pick in the 1st round of April’ draft to take the best cornerback in the draft, Morris Claiborne out of LSU.
The Cowboys also snatched linebacker Dan Connor away from the Carolina Panthers to replace the aging interior of their linebacking corps, providing a slight upgrade and some more athleticism.
If Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are as good as advertised, they could provide a huge boost to the Cowboys’ defense, potentially giving them a turnaround much like the Houston Texans experienced from 2010 to 2011, going from worst to near-first in a single season after aggressively addressing the defensive side of the ball.
With two good cornerbacks locking up receivers, that will only give DeMarcus Ware more time to get after opposing quarterbacks. Not that he needs it, but I’m sure he’ll appreciate it, nonetheless.
Whether you agree with Jerry Jones, who says the Cowboys’ Super Bowl window is closing, or Tony Romo, who says it’s not, the Dallas offseason indicates that they aren’t messing around anymore at Valley Ranch. The Dallas Cowboys are built to win, and win now.
Their success lies on the shoulders of two men: Tony Romo and Rob Ryan. Tony Romo has all the pieces around him to lead a top-10 offense into the playoffs, and Rob Ryan will no longer have excuses if the Dallas defense isn’t up to snuff. The pieces for a Super Bowl run are in place. Now the Cowboys simply need to put the puzzle together.
Sure, the odds of a Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl matchup is a long shot. Lots of different pieces have to fall into place, and in the NFL, there are no guarantees. Is Tony Romo clutch enough to make the big plays? Can Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson make it through an entire season without injury? Can the Cowboys make it through the gauntlet that is the NFC East? All these questions and much more must be addressed, but even so, one has to admit this one thing: If there ever has been a season in which the great state of Texas could see a Super Bowl matchup between its sons, this could very well be the one.
Jared Huntley is a Staff Writer for Rattle and Hum Sports. Jared is 26 years old and has been covering the NFL and MLB since the inception of R&H Sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org