Sunday night, it was on the quarterbacks to take care of things, in the absence of much help.
Or, at the very least, survive.
For the Texans, it was a good thing Deshaun Watson has shown himself to be tough, as he took a beating but lead them to a 19-16 overtime win over the Cowboys.
Watson was hit repeatedly, and was checked in the sideline tent for rib injuries. But he hit DeAndre Hopkins for a 49-yard gain in OT, which was the equivalent of two heavyweight boxers leaning on each other, and one uncorking a knockout punch.
Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn hit the 36-yard field goal to win it, and bring an end to the carnage.
Watson finished 33-of-44 for 375 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, and 40 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 209 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. He didn’t have much help, as Ezekiel Elliott was limited to 54 yards on 20 carries. His lack of targets is well-documented and was evident, but he also threw some questionable passes, with at least one dropped pick-six by the opponents.
Still, he gave himself and his team a chance. He just couldn’t outlast Watson.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. There’s not much the Texans can do about it now, but the state of their offensive line is bordering on ridiculous.
They put Julie'n Davenport back at left tackle, after he started the opener there. They had initially shifted Davenport to right tackle when Seantrel Henderson broke his ankle, letting rookie Mathias Rankin in at left tackle. But Sunday, Kendall Lamm was in the starting lineup at right tackle.
They’ve used five different combinations of offensive linemen in five games, and that’s no way to protect an investment like Watson, particularly one coming off a torn ACL.
They used to have a good left tackle in Duane Brown, but didn’t want to pay him and shipped him off the Seattle. The 2019 second-round pick that’s coming back was the centerpiece of the deal, and they could always use it to find protection.
If it’s not too late.
2. The Texans’ struggles in the red zone are inexplicable.
But in the attempt to explic them (shut up, it’s as much of a word as their work there is a game plan), it’s clear the Texans don’t trust that line.
They were 1-of-6 in the red zone, but it’s actually worse than it sounds. They had five possessions inside the Cowboys 3-yard line, and only one of them ending in a touchdown. Four of the others were field goals, and they turned it over on downs the other time.
Everything seems designed to put Watson in space and let him create, but that also tends to put him in harm’s way. There might be short-term benefits, but the Texans don’t appear to be a contender now, and more care with Watson’s future is probably in order.
They have a reasonable array of targets, so the focus will remain on the play-calling until it’s fixed.
3. Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is having an amazing season, but never seems to get the credit he probably deserves.
Part of that has to do with playing in the shadow of J.J. Watt, but he’s also the victim of his own talent.
Though he’s battled injuries, he’s still such a unique athlete that it looks easy for him to do what others cannot. Then he gets criticized for not making otherworldly plays more often. Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers is similar, in that he was ripped for “taking plays off” early in his career. Somehow, Peppers has 154.5 sacks despite such an egregious lack of effort.
Clowney will likely never reach that level, through factors outside of his control, but he’s the impact player in the Texans’ front, capable of rushing with power and speed, and getting the best of a player such as Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith.
4. The Cowboys won’t be able to replace Jason Witten on the field, after they were caught off guard by their star tight end retiring to get into broadcasting.
Geoff Swaim is beginning to look like a viable target, though.
Swaim had a 43-yard ramble on a screen in the first half, and finished with three catches for 55 yards, albeit all in the first half. He caught three passes for 39 yards and a touchdown last week.
Again, he’s not going to replace Witten’s production, but he’s growing into someone they can use offensively, and in the everything-is-relative state of their offense, that’s worth something.
5. The Texans had to shuffle their secondary because of injuries, and it doesn’t seem to be hurting them as much as the offensive line.
Jackson and Reid each had interceptions, on passes which were touched at some point by Cowboys targets. That doesn’t mean they weren’t Prescott’s fault, but it does speak to some degree of good fortune.