The NFL season for the two Texas teams has come to an end. Both the Cowboys and the Texans reached the playoffs this season. Both not only came up short, but they had very different routes to their final game. Let’s break down how each team’s season played out, off-season needs, and what the coaching staffs may look like entering the 2024 season.
Starting with Dallas, the Cowboys had high expectations entering this year with star players such as Dak Prescott, Tony Pollard, CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs and others. Led by Head Coach Mike McCarthy, who guided the Cowboys to a 12-5 record the previous two seasons, the Cowboys had high expectations. They were looking not only to take the NFC East back from the Eagles, but ride a division title to a conference title, something they haven’t done since the 1995-96 season.
Out the gate, the Cowboys were locked and loaded as they travelled to take on a division rival in the New York Giants, and then host the Jets in Dallas that following week. Over those 2 games, Dallas scored 70 points… while their opponents combined scored just 10. Prescott had no interceptions, the Dallas defense had 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, and things just seemed to be coming easy for a star-studded team with an “easy” opponent awaiting next in the Arizona Cardinals.
In what appears to be a more common theme than not, the Cowboys lose this “gimme” game to Josh Dobbs and the Cardinals by a score of 28-16. It was from then onward that people would question the Cowboys’ ability to win on the road. In fact, all of their losses up to the Wildcard round had been on the road, and they had not lost a home game since Week 1 of the 2022-23 season. As the season progressed, Prescott continued to shine and finished with 4,516 passing yards, 36/9 TD to INT ratio and 69.5% completion percentage. Prescott has been announced as a finalist for MVP.
Wide receiver Cee Dee Lamb ended with 1,749 yards through the air with 12 TD’s, and running back Tony Pollard rushed for over 1,000 yards. It’s safe to say that the Cowboys were one of the scariest teams in the NFC heading into the playoffs, but as everyone knows… anything can happen. And it did. The Cowboys hosted the Green Bay Packers in the Wildcard round and lost by a final score of 48-32. It was the most points the Dallas defense allowed all season. Packer running back Aaron Jones continued his dominance against Dallas with 3 TD’s, and the Cowboys playoff run ended earlier than most expected.
Shifting over to Houston, the Texans, or at least their fans, had little to no expectations coming into the season. With rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans, rookie quarterback CJ Stroud, new OC Bobby Slowik and fresh off of a 3-13-1 season, the Texans were simply trying to get their franchise headed in the right direction… and they did that.
Unlike Dallas, the Texans struggled in their first 2 games and went 0-2 while giving up a combined 56 points. They also struggled tremendously to get the running game going. In Week 3, they travelled to Jacksonville to take on the Jags and started to find their rhythm. They left TIAA Bank Field with 37-17 win, with rookies Stroud and Tank Dell showing the NFL world their young, yet strong chemistry.
When Houston hosted the Steelers in Week 4, the Texans added on to that rhythm with some swagger. Stroud had 306 yards and 2 TD’s, WR Nico Collins had 168 yards receiving and 2 TD’s, and the Texans’ defense allowed just 6 points on the afternoon. At this point in the season the Texans put the league on notice. As the season continued, the Texans were grinding out close games and even had to work through some major injuries. Wide receiver Tank Dell fractured his Fibula in Week 13 which ended his season, and Stroud missed 2 games due to a sustained concussion.
Overall, CJ Stroud was consistently the best player on the field for Houston. The rookie led the Texans to a 9-7 record entering the final week, where they would travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts in a “win-and-in” game for both teams. When the lights were brightest, Stroud’s first throw of the game was a 75 yard TD to Nico Collins. He ended the game with 264 yards, 2 TD’s and 0 interceptions as the Texans won 23-19 and advanced to the Playoffs for the first time since 2019.
In the Wildcard round, the Texans handled the Browns easily as their defense had 2 INT’s for touchdowns and Stroud threw for 3 as well, defeating Cleveland and Joe Flacco 45-14. Against the #1 seed Ravens in the Divisional Round, the Texans simply were dominated on both sides of the ball. Potential MVP Lamar Jackson finished the game with 4 total TD’s, and Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship with a 34-10 victory. Potential Rookie of the Year CJ Stroud finished his season totals with 4,557 passing yards, 26 TD’s and only 5 interceptions.
Now, as both teams enter into very important off-seasons, let’s take a look at what I believe to be each team’s top 3 position needs. Starting with Dallas, defensive tackle is a must. Although drafting Mazi Smith out of Michigan in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft, Dallas’ apparent hole on defense was their inability to stop the run. They allowed 1,910 yards on the ground and 4.2 yards per carry, which are both slightly below average, but for a team that seems to not have too many needs, DT could be a wise option.
Next, I think running back could be a concern for Dallas, as Tony Pollard’s 1-year contract is now expired. Pollard’s numbers this season were solid, but I believe the Dallas faithful were expecting a bit more from the 26 year old. His backup, Rico Dowdle, is a consistent second option, but doesn’t seem to have the “main back” type of talent. It will be interesting to see what Dallas does with the RB room. Lastly, I think linebacker is something Dallas will look to potentially add as well. Outside of the sensational Micah Parsons, the Cowboys LB unit has been a bit shaky and banged up, as Leighton Vander Esch ended up on the IR again this season and rookie LB DeMarvion Overshown tore his ACL before the season started.
Looking at Houston, I believe their biggest need is defensive tackle as well. Outside of rookie DE Will Anderson Jr., the Texans really struggled to get consistent pressure on QB’s all season and had trouble containing them in the run game as well. A big-time presence in the middle of the defensive line could help Houston. Sticking with the line, I think their second biggest need is the offensive front. Their OL unit this season was shuffled around rapidly as injuries piled up, and that movement was very apparent in the playoffs. The OL had numerous false start calls and had trouble protecting CJ Stroud against Baltimore greatly, so I think another strong player added to the OL could be very beneficial. Lastly, I think the Texans could use another wide receiver. Nico Collins and Tank Dell have the group in good hands, but they are missing a veteran presence. I believe the Texans will go out in free agency and sign a big-time name at wide receiver, and my guess would be… Mike Evans.
Looking at coaching, the Cowboys have decided to keep Mike McCarthy for another season, which is somewhat surprising to many. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer remains currently, and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is a major candidate for the few head coach openings around the league. If I had to guess, Dallas will be hiring a new DC.
For Houston, DeMeco Ryans enters his second season with a lot of momentum. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke is set to stay with Ryans and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, similarly to Quinn, is still being sought after for a head coaching job as well. If I had to guess, I believe Slowik will stay with Houston for another year.
It will be a busy offseason for both squads and with free agency and the NFL Draft coming up, I’m intrigued to see what they end up doing.