Some final thoughts ahead of the New England Patriots’ showdown against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday:
1) Much of the talk this week centered on Mac Jones and his incident with Jets defensive back Sauce Gardner, which dominated the news cycle and certainly became a bigger story than it needed to be. It was brought up almost daily on both television and talk radio this week, with debates being talked about of whether Jones is a “dirty” player.
Some tried to brush it off, but video did confirm that Jones gave Gardner a tap to his private parts, which resulted in the push we saw by Gardner that sent Jones reeling immediately after but didn’t result in a flag.
In realtime, it looked like there absolutely should have been a penalty levied against the Jets, especially since it followed the aftermath of the Patriots’ failed QB sneak attempt where Jones was slammed to the turf by C.J. Mosely after the whistle (also no flag).
With the game now in the rearview, it appears the NFL had no interest in intervening, and they’d rather sweep it under the rug.
So far, Jones also escaped this week without a fine, with the league probably feeling that Gardner’s retaliatory shove, along with Jones previously being slammed to the turf by Mosely, was enough.
Consider that an “offsetting” penalty. Either way, it made for a long week, and hopefully, following tomorrow’s game, there will be something better to talk about.
2) Speaking of which, it’s probably safe to say that the pressure is more on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott than it is on Jones this weekend. Most fans probably wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots came out of Sunday’s match-up at 1-3, but a loss by the Cowboys would be their second straight and drop them to 2-2 on the season, which is something that likely won’t sit well with Cowboys fans.
They view tomorrow’s contest as one their team should win, and a loss would likely strike a little fear into a fan base that was riding high after a 2-0 start. They face San Francisco next week, and Prescott is already feeling some heat after Dallas started out with blowout wins over both the Giants and Jets but got upset by the Cardinals 28-16.
That killed their momentum and seemingly instilled some doubt heading into this week. Not to mention the fact with the 49ers on deck, a loss to New England would potentially set the stage for what could be their third-straight defeat in the Bay Area next weekend.
Needless to say, hopefully, we see the Patriots be aggressive with a “nothing-to-lose” mentality, especially given what a victory would mean. A win would suddenly change the tenor of their rough start and potentially give them some momentum to get above .500 next weekend at home against the Saints.
3) It’s going to be interesting to see how New England’s offensive line performs tomorrow. The Patriots have ruled Cole Strange out for tomorrow, which ends what should have been the second straight week they would have started out with the same group as they continue looking to build some continuity.
Strange was limited this week with a “knee” injury, and this news likely means we’ll potentially see rookie Atonio Mafi see snaps again on Sunday.
With four of their five starters from 2022 out there last week, Jones seemingly had more time to work. Things also opened up in the ground game, with the Patriots putting up nearly 160 yards rushing against a pretty solid Jets defense.
Unfortunately, that won’t be the case tomorrow. Still, the Patriots should be poised for some success. Dallas is 25th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (131.3), which, with Ezekiel Elliott having a little extra motivation against his former team, along with Rhamondre Stevenson’s step forward last Sunday, should give New England’s offense an edge.
Let’s hope that with another different group for the fourth-straight week up front they can still be productive against Dallas’ 4th ranked defense, along with a team that’s ranked second in the NFL tied with both Buffalo and Indianapolis with 12 sacks.
4) Meanwhile, New England’s run defense will also be something to keep an eye on. Last week saw both Davon Godchaux and Daniel Ekuale go down with injuries on back-to-back plays, with Ekuale suffering a torn biceps that resulted in him ending up on injured reserve. Sam Roberts will likely see additional time up front, with the second-year defensive lineman likely facing a bigger workload against a Cowboys offense that ranks 8th in the NFL in average rushing yards per game.
Containing Dallas’ ground game is going to be key, as the Cowboys have been masters of controlling the clock. As Mike McCarthy also pointed out this week, they lead the league in 10+ play drives, and they come into this one tied for 4th in time of possession with the 49ers at 34:27 and third in the NFL with the Rams in first downs per game (23.3).
If the Patriots’ offense struggles, Dallas has shown their offense is able to wear defenses out. As a result, keeping the Cowboys from running at will is definitely something to watch tomorrow.
5) The final question is going to be whether or not we see someone take a step forward in the passing game tomorrow. We saw Brown’s touchdown last week, which was the longest offensive play of the season so far, but we haven’t seen many other players grab the reigns through three weeks.
At this point last season, as bad as things were, the Patriots had 13 pass plays of 20+ yards, including 5 of 30+. So far, they have just one (Brown’s touchdown).
Much of that can be attributed to the weather after the club has played two of their three games in the rain this season. But tomorrow, the roof is expected to be closed in Dallas, so the conditions should warrant some improvement.
JuJu Smith-Schuster talked about that this week, and he’s someone that they definitely need more from. So far, he’s been targeted 16 times for 10 catches and 66 yards, but Jones is just 2-of-5 targeting him on third down, including 0-for-2 on third down in the fourth quarter last week.
Kendrick Bourne hasn’t fared much better in key situations. Jones is just 2-of-7 targeting him on third down, which is suddenly becoming a big problem and it’s contributed to their slow start.
Last season to this point, Jones completed 15-of-22 (68.2%) of his third-down throws, with only Jonnu Smith (0/1) and DeVante Parker (0/3) as players he struggled to connect with. Jakobi Meyers led all receivers after hauling in 6/9 (67%) with five first downs.
This season, Jones is just 19-of-36 (52.8%) on third down, with those two guys (Smith-Schuster and Bourne) as the ones who he needs to get on the same page with.
It’s been said here before, but New England needs someone to start stepping up in those “gotta have it moments.” It would certainly be nice if we see that tomorrow.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary