By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots (4-1) are coming off of a 30-21 home victory over the New York Jets, and now are back in action today to face the the Dallas Cowboys (2-2) at Gillette Stadium. Here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live today on WFXT-TV Channel 25 at 4:15 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Cowboys are coming off of their bye week, but in their last game they collapsed in the fourth quarter to lose 34-30 to the Detroit Lions. They certainly will be looking to bounce back against the Patriots.
The Cowboys are a team that reminds me a great deal of the San Diego Chargers. They have a good amount of talent on both sides of the ball. However, I question their ability to put it all together, and potentially be a championship team.
On defense, this unit is currently first in the NFL total defense, and #1 in rushing defense. However, they are 14th in the league in passing defense.
Their front seven seems to be the real strength of this unit. This 3-4 defense is led by Jay Ratliff up front at nose tackle. The linebackers are really strong. On the inside you have Sean Lee who already has 35 tackles and has 2 interceptions. The two players to really watch out for rushing the passer are Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. Spencer already has 3 sacks, and Ware is one of the best in the business at getting after the quarterback. He already has 5 sacks this season, and Tom Brady better keep an eye on him.
The weakness of this unit is in the defensive backfield. The cornerbacks are pretty good, and are led by Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins. However, the Patriots might be able to exploit the Dallas safeties on Sunday.
On offense, this is a potent unit that can be hard to stop. At running back you have Felix Jones who currently has a 4.3 yard per carry average which is very good.
The real strength of this unit has to be the receivers. At tight end you have one of the best in the business with Jason Witten. You also have two very dangerous wide receivers in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. The Patriots secondary could be very busy on Sunday.
The wildcard for the Cowboys has to be quarterback Tony Romo. At times he looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the game. However, he seems to make many big mistakes in crucial situations that has caused the Cowboys to lose football games. Which has Cowboys fans wondering which Romo will show up on Sunday?
This game could be a shootout, and could be decided on which offense makes the least mistakes. I see this as a back and forth game, but when we get to the fourth quarter, I feel the quarterback play could be the difference, and I think the Patriots obviously have an advantage at that position. I like the Patriots in this game as I feel they will pull away in the fourth quarter.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots defense needs to confuse Tony Romo and his offensive line. The Cowboys have a young offensive line, and a quarterback who can be prone to making mistakes.
The Patriots should really try to disguise their coverages, and really make Romo think back in the pocket. For this game, I would use a 3 man line, and drop everyone else back into coverage on passing downs. I would try everything in my power to force Romo into making a mistake.
2. Cornerback Devin McCourty needs to have a huge game. I am expecting McCourty to be on Bryant, but he could at times be on Austin. Whoever he is covering, I think it is imperative that he limits the big plays against him. I don’t expect him to shut down his man, but I hope he can keep that player under control.
3. The Patriots need to take away tight end Jason Witten. For me this might be the most important key for the game. Witten is definitely the security blanket for Romo.
The Patriots have done a tremendous job on taking away something from an offense most weeks. This week, if you take away Whitten, it could really hurt the Cowboys offense, and open them up to possible mistakes. You could see a combination of players covering him like Patrick Chung and Gary Guyton. Hopefully this is a game we see a couple players create turnovers.
4. The Patriots offensive line needs to protect Brady at all costs. I am expecting defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to bring the house, and try to confuse the offensive line. In the past he has had his defenders moving around at the line of scrimmage, and making it very difficult to recognize where the rush is coming from.
The line needs to be solid in this game, or it could be a long day for Brady. He took some hits last week, and let’s hope we don’t see a repeat performance against the Cowboys.
5. The tight ends need to exploit the middle of the field. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski need to have a big day. The safeties for Dallas are average at best. I have a feeling the Patriots tight ends could really take advantage of these match-ups, especially if the cornerbacks are taking away Welker and Branch. That will leave the middle of the field wide open for big plays from the tight ends.
The Cowboys need this game to really jump-start their season. They have had two weeks to prepare, and will be ready to play. I expect them to come out strong, and really make this a difficult game for the Patriots. However, as stated earlier, I envision the Patriots dominating the fourth quarter and winning this game. I am predicting a 34-24 victory for the Patriots against the Cowboys.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.