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A Hard Knocks Saga: 2015 Texans vs 2021 Cowboys

A faceoff between two different seasons of HBO’s Hard Knocks

The Cowboys got the nod to be the focal point of this seasons NFL’s production of Hard Knocks, a five-week series that gives fans a behind the scenes look at a franchise’s training camp. This is the third time the Cowboys have been highlighted on the show, and although we are all exhausted of the constant “America’s Team” narrative, the window of having an entertaining Jerry Jones on the hit series is quickly closing and must be taken advantage of. With this season getting under way, the competitor in me can’t help but compare the 2015 Hard Knocks Texans season (*last Hard Knocks team to make the playoffs) with their bitter rivals turn this year.

So welcome to the five-part Texans vs Cowboys: Hard Knocks edition. I will be breaking down and comparing the two season, mono-e-mono, episode by episode. The format will be simple; each episode will represent a quarter of a regular football game and teams will score points throughout the episode based on how cool and entertaining the content is. For example, if the team’s rookie skits are better than the others it may be worth a field goal (+3) or a big-time sack and change of procession. You may be asking yourself this all feels very derivative, pretentious and overall, extremely pointless. And you’d be right, but so is the entire show of Hard Knocks, so let’s get after it. (Side-note: Hard Knocks is usually a pointless show except in 2019 when all the Raiders talked about was how good Darren Waller was and you could easily grab him in the last round of your fantasy draft, that paid off)

Quarter 1:

The Texans come out of the gate pretty slow and sluggish. The beginning narrative is, then Texans’ head coach Bill O’Brien speaking how the organization is relatively new, having never really won and the expectation of winning is none existent, which is all very valid. On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys come out swinging. It begins with a battle worn looking Dak Prescot talking about his brother’s suicide before last season and his season ending early due to a gruesome ankle injury. This looks to be the main narrative/focal point of Hard Knocks for the Cowboys and the first opening scenes are captivating. The Cowboys have the ball and they are driving.

The Boys carry that moment straight into the first practice with stars of the like of Zeke, rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and veteran Jaylon Smith (the two backers look very good together rocking #11 and #9 respectively) getting to practice in front fans for the first time in two years. Luckily, their moment is stopped by a crying Jerry Jones talking to the media about how nice it is to be back and a solo scene of Zeke wrapping a birthday gift for Dak. Both are very boring segues.

Micah Parsons and Jaylon Johns Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

Jump back six years ago and, just like in real life, the Texans defense comes up in a huge spot. We are first graced with the presence of the Texans’ biggest offseason addition, a larger than life, fun loving Vince Wilfork is playing catch with elephants at the circus. This scene is only to be matched with the big man draining 3’s and boxing everyone out in a game of pickup basketball with family and friends. Of course, this is followed by the introduction of a Mr. J.J. Watt talking about how he spent his entire summer seeing how many times he could flip a thousand-pound tire (the answer, 61). After a couple of Texans’ first practice shots, they really begin to heat things up with a post practice J.J. Watt solo workout. We’re talking ‘bout cut off the sleeves and turn the baseball cap backwards type of work out. I would say its peak J.J., but I know he’s only getting warmed up. Him and Wilfork couldn’t have stepped up in a bigger way, as they completely stuff the Cowboys and swing all the moment the Texans way.

2015 JJ had the keys to the city
2015 JJ had the keys to the city
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Side note: for those of you lost at home as to what I’m doing, please imagine the Cowboys receiving the kick off and begin to drive down field. They get into field goal range only to be stuffed by Wilfork on first down (him playing catch with elephants), a pass batted down by J.J. Watt on second (J.J. talking about flipping a tire 61 times), a sack by the same man to push them out of field goal range on third (J.J. doing an overtly staged solo workout to pander to Watt crazed Texans fans) and they are forced to punt. All of that, except it’s just football metaphors of the entertainment value of two separate seasons of a TV show. Got it? Good cause that’s the last time I’m breaking it down like this.

Moving on with the first quarter and we are tied, scoreless. We are going back and forth with the Texans showcasing their hopeful rising star wide-receiver, DeAndre Hopkins (more on him later) and the Cowboys showing their fast, I mean really fast, looking rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, who looks all the part of being a problem for years to come. The Texans are talking about how they need to be more physical, while the Cowboys are clearly terrified of giving Dak and Zeke any workload due to an injury ridden past. Things are at a standstill, that is until an unlikely star comes out of nowhere. The Cowboys’ special teams coach, John Fassel, goes on a five-minute, in-depth speech about his vasectomy, and subsequently his reverse vasectomy, to start off his special teams player’s meeting. I’d be lying if I said watching a man stone face explain the intricate details of his medical procedure to a room of jaw dropped men was not electric television. Cowboys are on the board first. 3-0.

Unfortunately, the slow start for Texans’ offense does not stop there. As the team heads up to Richmond, VA for a dual practice with the then Washington R******, the equipment managers just so happen to forget to pack the quarterback practice jerseys. This is the equivalent of the Texans fumbling the snap on their following procession and could be a sign of why the franchise is the way it is. The Cowboys get the ball back but do nothing. It’s nothing but more talking about Dak being injured, a weird Mike McCarthy bit about how the Cowboys need more Austin Powers like “mojo” with a full movie clip and everything. This is then segued to an even weirder, more boring clip of McCarthy winning the Super Bowl, his uninteresting parents, and the Cowboys playing a boring pointless preseason game in Caton, OH. This is again stuffed by the Texans defense.

J.J. Watt wakes up and chooses violence in Richmond, Virginia. After a montage of J.J absolutely embarrassing offensive lineman, we are blessed with a scene of him bull rushing one to the ground, then #5 overall pick and future All-pro offensive guard Brandon Scherff. J.J’s response? “Doesn’t count he’s a rookie”. Hitting the unanimous All-American offensive lineman with an All-Time “Welcome to the league rookie, you are no longer in Iowa.” Turn down for Watt? Turnover on downs.

It’s the Texans’ ball, they haven’t done anything all day and the end of the quarter is nearing. Look no further than the hopeful replacement of All-pro wide-receiver Andre Johnson, a mister DeAndre “Nuke” Hopkins. With an absolute top five, all-time savage moment in Hardknocks history; DeAndre Hopkins gets in a barking matching with veteran and human joy stick DeAngelo Hall. It seemed that the cornerback came at Hop with something to say about his previous route and things got a little physical after the whistle blew. In a legendary response, Hopkins holds his hands to his side and hits him with the phrase “I fear God, boy”. D-Hop proceeds to go to his side line and utters the phrase “I don’t start nothing; I just finish it”. The next time we see DeAndre and DeAngelo go against each other, our jaws drop to a slow motion. An intense Hopkins breaks on a route that leaves the veteran cornerback on the ground with broken ankles and possibly his ticket to retirement (has anyone seen DeAngelo Hall since this incident). This is a touchdown for the Texans and a flashy one at that. 7-3.

The episode ends with a Texans’ corner tackling a Washington player low and the whole dual practice breaks out in a brawl. Texans’ cornerback Johnathan Joseph is caught with the hot mic with this beautiful line “Let’s get the *explicit* out of Richmond.” The Cowboys lose an extremely boring, very pointless, preseason game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and no one could care less. It’s so bad that the narrator has to come up with an “isn’t football just beautiful in all its forms” narrative, over slow-motion shots to make it even remotely entertaining. That’s the end of the first quarter, the Texans are rolling into quarter number two with all the momentum.

End of Quarter 1: Texans 7, Cowboys 3

Here are some of the highlights that didn’t fit the flow of the ‘game’.

  • Bill O’Brien at the beginning of the episode says “we have two quarterbacks here that haven’t been given a shot and I think they are both worthy of a shot” The two quarterbacks are Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet.
  • Zeke and Dak are really good friends but seem very unmarketable and unentertaining. This is more on Zeke. Thinking back on his entertainment value, you never think of him at the podium or his personality. You think of his wild flare on the field and touchdown cellies. There is a scene where he gifts Dak Prescott a nice travel bag and it looks awkward as can be. We’ll see if he can improve this part of his game next week
  • Bill O’Brien on day two of the joint practice with Washington says, he will see if they (the Redskins at their practice field) can bring up the atmosphere by playing some music. “Jack up some country, maybe some Rick Ross. Man (laughs) I *explicit* love Rick Ross.” Bill O’Brien, big Rick Ross guy.
  • Micah Parsons looks like a down right gamer. I touched on this earlier but he looks fast. You can fake being impressed at the podium, on twitter, in the locker room, but those reactions to him by the players on the field, that holds water. They might have something special with the #11 pick in Dallas. His mom also seems like the ultimate football mom sweetheart. She could be a rising star later on in the game and I want nothing but the best for her.
  • Kellen Moore looks awkward addressing the Cowboys at halftime. Any general manager watching this episode with the idea of Kellen Moore as a head coach in the near future has just pushed him back at least a decade in his mind. He’s top 5 in offensive coordinators in the league right now but he just does not look the part or comfortable addressing the team.