The Patriots are coming off their first victory of the season over the Jets to go to 1-2, and they can even their record to 2-2 with a win over the Cowboys. But this is no easy task as the Cowboys have a very good team, and this one is in Dallas.
Say what you will about Jerry Jones, but for those who have never been there, the Cowboys home is impressive to the nth degree. The Cowboys go all out to make the fan experience a pleasant one. If you’re attending there for the first time, you’re in for a treat. I was there for the Patriots first visit back in 2015. It is like the Roman Coliseum.
Fox will broadcast this week’s game, which can be seen locally on WFXT Channel 25. Kevin Burkhardt will handle play-by-play duties with Greg Olsen as the color analyst. Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots’ flagship radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2023 to analyze some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
First up is the Patriot offense:
Patriots RBs vs. Cowboys Front Seven — Edge New England
The Patriots’ running game came alive a bit against the Jets; they rushed the ball 40 times for 157 yards, just a shade under four yards per carry. While it wasn’t dominant, it allowed them to control the tempo and the clock. It was the first time the starting unit had played together all season. And it helped. But the Jets have a terrific DL, so those numbers look better than they do at first glance.
Dallas held Breece Hall to virtually nothing in Week 2, but the defense was gashed for 222 yards last week in Arizona. Was the game an outlier, or did it show that there is a way to attack it? Arizona used a Belichick staple by taking away the opponent’s best player, in this case, Micah Parsons.
They ran the ball right up the gut and, therefore, took Parsons out of the equation. The downhill style of attack fits the Patriot running backs, and after last week’s 16-carry, 80-yard performance, I would imagine that Bill O’Brien will use Ezekiel Elliott a lot this week. He and Rhamondre Stevenson have been splitting carries, but Elliott will want to make a statement against his old team, and this will be the time.
Of course, Dallas knows that it has to tighten their inside run defense, so who will win the battle here? I’m not advocating that the Patriots will run for 200+ yards at all, but with Jones under center, a decent to good patient running game will open up some play-action passing.
Patriots WRs vs. Cowboys Secondary — Edge Dallas
Mac Jones had a good first half against the Jets but a not-so-great second half against the Jets. Facing Gang Green’s DL, he worked to get the ball out quickly and accurately and negate the QB pressure. As a result, he wasn’t sacked once. The protection wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.
The Cowboys’ defense is built on speed, and their edge rushers, Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence, are outstanding. If the Patriots get in an early hole, those two will wreak havoc on any offense. In the secondary, they lost Trevon Diggs for the season with a torn ACL. But they’ll just turn to Stephon Gilmore, who, despite being 33, is still an outstanding corner. IMO, I think Gilmore is better, but losing Diggs is major.
But trying to target his replacement in the passing game constantly is playing with fire. They’ll have to be judicious with their perimeter passing. I think they’ll work the slot and use the tight ends to attack the middle of the field. Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki, along with Kendrick Bourne and Demario Douglas, may be their best bet.
Next up is the Cowboys offense:
Cowboys RBs vs. NE Front Seven — Edge New England
The Patriots’ run defense was outstanding last week against the Jets. New York could only must 38 yards on 22 carries, a 1.7-yard average. However, during the game, they lost two of their important interior defensive linemen. Davon Godchaux was injured and has been limited this week, and Daniel Ekuale, a subpackage interior pass rusher, was placed on IR. Christian Barmore was limited in practice on Thursday.
Tony Pollard supplanted Elliott in the Dallas offense last year and is a very good, versatile back with speed and can be extremely effective. With Elliott on the Patriots, Pollard is backed by Rico Dowdle, who has played well when called upon. Dallas’ OL is terrific with Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and Terrence Steele upfront. But Smith missed last week’s game and hasn’t practiced this week. Center Biadasz and Martin have been limited this week.
If Dallas has three starting offensive linemen out or not 100 percent, it will inhibit their ability to run the football, something the Patriots know all about. Setting the edge will be as important as defending the middle of the field. Anfernee Jennings stepped in and played extremely well early in the game. Sam Roberts and Keion White (moving inside more) could see an uptick in snaps this week.
Dallas WRs vs. NE Secondary — Edge Dallas
QB Dak Prescott has excellent talent surrounding him at the skill positions. Cee Dee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Brandin Cooks at wide receiver, Jake Ferguson at tight end, with Pollard and Dowdle out of the backfield. Prescott has been a bit inconsistent thus far this year, but when he’s dialed in, he can quickly take over a game.
The Patriot pass defense has been very good thus far this season, facing two excellent passing attacks and one terrible one. Rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez has been outstanding and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Month (you can ignore that if you’re in the “Bill can’t draft” crowd). After facing the likes of Devonta Smith, A.J. Brown, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Garrett Wilson in the first three weeks of the season, it doesn’t get any easier with Lamb and Gallup up next.
The Patriots are missing three of their top four CBs, with the three Joneses missing last week. Jack (IR), Marcus (IR), and Jon (ankle injury) are missed, and with Jon still limited with his injury, it will be tough sledding if he can’t go on Sunday.
The key is stopping the run early and forcing Prescott into third and long situations. The Patriots’ pass rush is underrated nationally, and with Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Deatrich Wise, Keion White, and Christian Barmore inside, they can pressure QBs, too. Again, the health of the Dallas OL will be a big factor this week.
Special Teams — Edge Dallas
The Dallas STs have punter Bryan Anger, who is averaging more than 50 yards per punt, and kicker Brandon Aubrey, who is 10-10 on FG attempts with a long of 55. KaVontae Turpin handles KR/PR but hasn’t got many chances yet.
The Patriots have rookie kickers with Chad Ryland, who has attempted five FGs this season from 48, 48, 49, 51, and 57 yards. He missed from 48 and 57 last week due to uncharacteristic bad snaps from Joe Cardona. But it is safe to say that he has the coaches’ confidence in making long kicks. Punter Bryce Barringer is averaging 43.5 yards per punt, with 10 inside the 20-yard line. With All-Pro returner Marcus Jones out, the job has fallen to Demario Douglas and then Jabrill Peppers. Brenden Schooler is making plays every week and fast becoming the eventual replacement of Matthew Slater.
Next up, who wins and why…
The Patriots have the opportunity to even their record at 2-2 and gain some ground in the AFC East, with Buffalo and Miami playing each other and the Jets playing Kansas City. But it isn’t going to be easy.
Three Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Stay Patient and Run The Ball Up the Middle — The Patriots need to play with Mac Jones more under center and grind out some yardage on the ground, preferably between the tackles. This takes away Dallas’ big advantage on the edge.
The key is to get their backs running downhill, something they are well suited for. By keeping Jones under center, if they can get anything going on the ground, it will allow Jones to use play action.
Stop The Dallas Running Game — The Patriots have to stop the Cowboys from running the football and force them into being one-dimensional, which, while still hard to stop given the weapons at Prescott’s disposal, at least gives them a puncher’s chance.
In Dallas’ OT win in New England in 2021, they were able to run effectively, and Prescott passed for 445 yards and wasn’t sacked once. Much has changed for both teams since then, but the principle does not. Given the injuries to the Dallas OL, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Get Some Chunk Plays Offensively — The Patriots have had a dearth of chunk plays on offense, which makes it really tough to have to go 10-14 plays down the field in order to score. Bill O’Brien has to scheme up some plays that will make things a tad easier for Jones. Going 65-75 yards a few yards at a time against a defense like this isn’t going to cut it.
They need to get TEs Henry and Gesicki, along with Douglas and Bourne, going with YAC if they are going to pull the upset.
The Patriots can win if they win the battles of the running game on both sides of the ball. But they can’t have any of the slow, sloppy starts with penalties and turnovers. They’ll have to play virtually mistake-free football. And they’ll have to force the Cowboys into making some.
Can they do it? In most games against Dallas, I’d say no. But I’m drinking the NE Kool-Aid this week. I think they pull out a very tight game in Texas. Patriots 24-23
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick CeeDee Lamb Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Lawrence Ezekiel Elliott Josh Uche Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Matthew Judon Micah Parsons New England Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rhamondre Stevenson Stephon Gilmore Tony Pollard