COWBOYS // TEXANS OVERVIEW
Sunday Night Football presents us with a pair of struggling teams this week, in the lucky-to-be 1-3 Texans and the lucky-to-be 1-3 Cowboys. These teams have two completely different styles of play:
The Cowboys rank 24th in pace of play, compared to fifth for the Texans; the Cowboys lean on Ezekiel Elliott, while the Texans lean on Deshaun Watson; Watson ranks first in the NFL in average intended air yards, at 11.0, while Dak Prescott ranks in the bottom half of the league at 7.8; the Texans play aggressive, man-heavy defense, while the Cowboys have a more vanilla zone-leaning scheme; and the Texans boast DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Keke Coutee through the air, while Dallas has guys like Cole Beasley and Geoff Swaim.
COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
Dak Prescott has reached 30 pass attempts only once this season, and the only time he has topped 170 passing yards was last week, when the Cowboys finally had the bright idea of actually scheming some passes to Ezekiel Elliott, instead of just dumping the ball off to him when everything else was covered.
The Cowboys have produced two wide receiver games this year north of 53 yards — a 7-73-0 line for Beasley in Week 1, and a 2-79-1 line for Tavon Austin when he blew past Janoris Jenkins for a long touchdown. It is likely that all three Texans wide receivers, and both quarterbacks, and Ezekiel Elliott outscore every Cowboys wide receiver on the Showdown slate. It is also probable that at least one kicker and at least one defense outscores these guys.
If you feel compelled to target some floor here, Beasley is your guy, with five or more targets in three of four games this year. “Upside” is a total dart throw among these pass catchers.
I will say that one of my regrets from last week was that I didn’t trust the research on Geoff Swaim, after highlighting in this space all the routes he had been running. He has earned the clear lead tight end job without anyone noticing, and last week he played all but five snaps, while tying with Allen Hurns for the most pass routes run on the team. He’s simply a catch-and-fall specialist, which thins out upside — and salary would have to be really tight on the Showdown slate before I would go here — but he’s a name to keep in mind for future weeks as a five-to-seven target guy who is still priced cheap, and can open up some salary flexibility in other spots on a roster.
COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE
Houston has been one of the toughest run defenses in the NFL this year, ranking fourth in yards allowed per carry and second in DVOA. This is worth noting — but it is also worth noting that volume matters more for Zeke than matchup, as he has the ability to pop off in any spot when the work is there.
Through four games, Zeke has touch counts of 18, 22, 19, and 29 — which perfectly paints what his range is on this slow-it-down offense that has a tough time sustaining drives: when everything goes according to plan, he’ll push for 30 touches; and when game flow or play volume turns against Zeke, he’ll push for 20 touches. Either way, he sees enough guaranteed work to be considered a high-floor piece every week.
The biggest story last week, of course, was Zeke’s schemed usage in the pass game. After racking up only 37 receiving yards through the first three games of the season — seeing 18 targets, but with almost all of these coming on desperation dump-offs — the Cowboys gave their star running back blockers in space and even sent him up the sideline deep in the game to create actual upside opportunities. It is not a stretch to call this the least creative offense in the NFL, but this type of usage is going to put Zeke in position for more blowup games than he otherwise would have.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
Over the last couple weeks — both in this space, and (in Week 4) on the Square Table — I have brought up the surprising lack of creativity in this Texans pass attack, which could be best described as “Have Fuller and Hopkins run their route, and then throw it to one of them.” Nothing was being done to confuse a defense or to scheme these guys open, and this was leading to more stalled drives than a team with Watson, Fuller, and Hopkins should have.
But last week, the Texans were finally able to add speedy rookie Coutee to the field — and with his arrival, this offense became a lot more exciting.
In Week 4, Houston relentlessly used Coutee in pre-snap motion, which is going to set up their offense for all sorts of attack variations moving forward — from jet sweeps to options to reverses — with this multiple-direction movement also functioning to freeze the defense for an extra moment each play, giving Hopkins and Fuller more opportunities to burn their coverage downfield.
With Hopkins and Fuller drawing attention deep, Coutee is also being given plenty of space in the short areas of the field. I have seen a number of mentions this week about Fuller’s health being a determining factor in whether or not Coutee will see targets — but Coutee is being used more as a Lamar Miller replacement than as a Will Fuller competitor. Last week, Coutee had 15 targets and two carries. Six of his 15 targets came behind the line of scrimmage. Another six targets came within seven yards of the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Miller, Alfred Blue, and Ryan Griffin — who had combined to see 6.7 targets per game through the first three weeks — saw only four combined targets last week, with Watson throwing the ball a season-high 42 times. In the same way that Bill O’Brien is willing to over-feed his two best players in Hopkins and Fuller, he’ll be willing to over-feed Coutee while sacrificing touches and targets for lower-upside guys.
This is a better spot for Coutee than it is for Hopkins and Fuller, as Dallas has allowed the seventh-lowest aDOT in the league, while only two teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards. The good news for Hopkins is that the targets are going to be there regardless, with double-digit looks in every game to begin the year. With an aDOT of 14.4, he’ll retain his monster upside if he is able to connect for seven or eight of his looks — but the price-considered floor is lower in this spot than it would be in others. Obviously: in a raw-points sense, he still remains one of the top plays on the slate, with the same floor as Coutee and Zeke, and with more upside than the former.
Fuller is seeing an aDOT of 15.7, and is dealing with a hamstring issue (what else is new?). Right now, it appears Fuller will play this weekend, though there is a chance he could have his snaps scaled back. If he is healthy, he should step right back into nine to 11 targets — weighted toward downfield looks. Give him a slightly lower floor than Hopkins and Coutee, but put him in the middle of the three for ceiling.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
Lamar Miller was unable to finish the Texans’ Week 4 game with a chest injury, and if he plays, he will be at risk of a lightened workload. Dallas has ranked top five in the NFL to begin the year in yards allowed per carry.
Alfred Blue closed out the game for the Texans last week, averaging 2.4 yards per carry on 13 looks, and bringing in zero of his three targets. If Miller misses, expect the Coutee wrinkles to become even more firmly locked into this offense as the Texans look to minimize their backfield and hunt for explosive plays. The starting running back on the Texans will need to score a touchdown in order to make a dent on the Showdown.
On the full-weekend slate (or the full-Sunday slate on FantasyDraft), Coutee is the only guy who would stand out to me in this spot — as a high-floor, solid-ceiling play. I love his role in this offense and expect him to remain heavily involved moving forward — as he is a much better means of moving the ball in the short areas of the field than the Texans’ backfield or tight ends.
For pure upside, Zeke, Hopkins, Fuller, and Watson all rank near the top of the weekend — but floor on all these guys is lower in this spot than it would be in others, making them large-field-tourney-only plays for me on bigger slates. On the Showdown, they obviously stand out above the rest.
The Cowboys’ passing attack is an obvious, weekly “stay-away” unit, but if you have to go here on the Showdown, you can close your eyes and take floor with Beasley or Swaim, or you can close your eyes and take ceiling with Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, or Tavon Austin. We may get one or two tourney-usable games from this group this season.
Each defense is in play on the Showdown slate. Same goes for the kickers.