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Patriots – Cowboys Week 12 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 22, 2019 at 6:38 am ET

The Patriots return home for a big matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium. This will be the second straight week facing an NFC East team as the Patriots were in Philadelphia last Sunday.  

The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Cowboys are leading the NFC East with a 6-4 record, a game ahead of the Eagles…thanks to New England. 

This will be a match of strength vs strength as the #1 offense of the Cowboys is facing the #1 defense of the Patriots.  

This week’s game will be broadcast by Fox and can be seen locally on WFXT Channel 25. Joe Buck will handle play-by-play duties with Troy Aikman as the color analyst. Erin Andrews will report from 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.

The Patriots (9-1) are coming off a hard-fought, tough 17-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The defense logged five sacks of Carson Wentz and shut them out for the final 42+ minutes 

The Cowboys (6-4) are coming off of a big 35-27 win over the Detroit Lions. Dak Prescott threw for 444 yards and is leading the league. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Cowboys have met 12 times in their history, including the first-ever game in Texas Stadium in Irving. Dallas won the first seven and the Patriots the last five. The teams last met in October 2015 in Dallas where the Patriots won 30-6.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Cowboys Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Dallas

The Patriots running game remains frustratingly mired in neutral, they have tried different combinations and backs but the issue remains the offensive line has not played well as a group. However, starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn returns after being on IR for eight weeks (turf toe). Will it help to have Wynn back? Of course. Will it make them a juggernaut running the ball or even consistently good? Nope. Their problems running the ball are deeper than just one man can fix. But it should be better. 

The Cowboys run defense is middle of the road allowing 105.2 yards per game which is tied for 15th in the league. Their defense is small and very fast and athletic. (More to this below). This is a matchup a year ago that the Patriots ground game would have eaten them alive in the second half. This year? Hmm…

Look for Josh McDaniels to mix things up but this may be a straight-ahead type of game for the running backs. Trying to run those stretch plays to the outside against a fast, athletic defense is pure folly.  A straight-ahead game would favor more Rex Burkhead and possible Brandon Bolden than Sony Michel but we’ll see.         

Patriots WRs vs Cowboys Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

Caveat here…. A big maybe considering who may miss this game. The Patriots passing game has been limited by the pass blocking of the offensive line. Again, it hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. That means Tom Brady can’t wait long enough for plays to develop. The Patriots have good possession guys in Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu who are very quick off the line and can eat up the short-intermediate areas of the field. Sanu is dealing with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss this week’s game. A big loss. 

Dallas is 7th in the league against the pass allowing 216.9 yards per game. Their strength is their pass rush. Robert Quinn has 8.5 sacks while DeMarcus Lawrence has 4.5. Michael Bennett has garnered three sacks in three games. 

Wynn’s return will definitely help because Marshall Newhouse struggled against speed rushers. And Quinn is an excellent speed rusher off the blindside. With Sanu and possibly Phillip Dorsett out, it means Edelman, James White, and Rex Burkhead will be leaned on heavily. The offense will need rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers to step up big this week. Ben Watson has been coming on a bit and should see more targets this week. 

Next up the Cowboys offense:

Cowboys RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Dallas

The Cowboys running game with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard with Prescott scrambling out of the pocket is very effective. It helps to have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL to run behind. An area to watch is the health of the Cowboys’ bookend tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, both of whom have been banged up. 

The Patriots have been a Top 10 defense against the run allowing 97.3 yards per game. They’ll need the big men inside, Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy to penetrate and slow down the running game at the point of attack. 

For the Patriots it isn’t so much stopping Elliott, he’s going to get his yards, but they have to slow him down with their nickel package to force Prescott into obvious passing situations on third down. If they can do that, they’ll be successful. If Dallas constantly has third and short, they’ll get burned by play action. 

Cowboys WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Dallas passing game has a plethora of weapons. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb at wide receiver, Jason Witten at tight end and Elliott out of the backfield is a tough group to cover. Dallas is the #1 team in the NFL on 3rd down. 

The Patriots #1 pass defense will be tested here. Stephon Gilmore is the best corner in the league and will be matched up with Cooper. But the key for New England is QB pressure where the Patriots have 37 sacks on the season. Covering the secondary receivers Gallup and Cobb will take on an increased focus for J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty.

Prescott will continue to spread it around, look for Witten to play a big role this week. The Patriots will try to pressure him and force him into making a mistake. Third downs and keeping the sticks moving will be key for the offense. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams have Nick Folk who has settled things down in the kicking game although he hasn’t been asked to do much from distance yet. Jake Bailey is having an outstanding season and last week put six of eight punts inside the 20-yard line. The coverage units have been terrific. The return game has been stuck in neutral.

The Cowboys have the very steady Brett Maher who is 32-32 for PATs and has been okay in the FG department but has missed 4-6 from 50 yards and beyond. The Dallas return game has been only so-so. Because they’re at home and Bailey is on a roll, the Patriots get the nod this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 10-1 but have their work cut out for them this week as the Cowboys are a very tough matchup this week. But Dallas has been inconsistent this season. One week they look awful and lose to the Jets and then they totally blow out the Eagles. I’d expect them to bring their A-Game to Gillette this week.

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Slow Down the Run- Look for the Patriots defense to give some different looks this week. If Pat Chung can return to game action this week it will help as he typically plays in the box. The Cowboys like to play mainly out of their 11 personnel package, (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and even with Elliot, they’ll be in their nickel package. 

Instead of the normal two-gapping the big men, the Patriots may try to have Guy and Shelton penetrate and slow things before they have a chance to get off the line. This is a big key for the defense. It seems crazy to say that they want to force the ball in Prescott’s hands but that would match against the Patriots strength, their secondary. 

Get the RBs into the Passing Game – The Patriots offense has struggled lately and with Sanu and possibly Dorsett out, this could get ugly. Therefore. James White and Rex Burkhead have to step up and keep the chains moving. Look for the Patriots to go up-tempo and try to control the clock. 

Michael Lombardi was on Dallas radio and had some interesting things to say. 

“In the last 2 seasons when the Cowboys play 30 minutes or more on defense they’re 5-17. When they play 30 min or less they’re 20-4. 

Why is that? It’s because the Cowboys are small on defense, they rely on quickness, they rely on speed, they rely on their movement to make plays.  When they have to stand in the middle of the ring for 32, 33 minutes, they wear down. That’s the essence of this game and I think what you’ll see from the Patriots is you’ll see tempo, you’ll see them control, you’ll see them want to hold the ball 34+ minutes and keep Zeke and Dak off the field.” 

Will this work without Sanu and Dorsett? We’ll see. Bill Belichick is the master at finding the adjustments needed to win and in the coaching department, he gets the edge over Garrett, but the team may be very short-handed on offense. 

Special Teams Will Have to Step Up – The Patriots have been getting great special teams play and they’ll need more of that this week to earn a victory. Bailey has been outstanding at pinning teams deep and they’ll need more of that on a rainy Sunday in Gillette. 

Look for them to go after a punt or two this weekend to help out the struggling offense. Justin Bethel or Brandon Bolden may be a key contributor this week.

___________

Prediction: 

As we’ve said, the Cowboys present a great matchup of two really good football teams. The Cowboys offense is tough and will not be easy to stop. They’ll get their yards and points this week, especially with the Patriots offense scuffling along right now. The Patriots will get it figured out, they always do.

But with Sanu and Dorsett out, that may be too much for the offense to work around. The Patriots drop their first game at home this year and fall to 9-2 on the season.  Cowboys 24-16

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour goes back out on the road next week as the Patriots take on the Houston Texans.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and breakdown game analysis

 

Patriots 2019 Opponents, The Cowboys Coming in on a Roll

Steve Balestrieri
November 21, 2019 at 6:58 am ET

The Patriots return home for a late afternoon matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. It has been an up and down season in Dallas, but right now the Cowboys are on a roll offensively. Dak Prescott behind a superb offensive line and a talented and deep group of receivers is lighting it up in 2019. They also have Ezekiel Elliot in the running game and a fast, flowing to the ball defense. 

Dallas is trying to be the first team since the 2003-2004 Eagles to win the NFC East back-to-back times. Right now at 6-4, they are a game up on Philly with six to go, but hold the tiebreaker after crushing Philly 37-10 about a month ago.

So, let’s take a look at the 2019 version of the Cowboys and what’s happening in Jerry’s World down in “Big D” as we approach Week 12

The Offense Is Riding Prescott’s Hot Hand:

The Cowboys entered the 2019 season with some question marks as RB Ezekiel Elliott was a holdout and after a stellar rookie season, QB Dak Prescott had two so-so years in 2017-18. Any doubts about Prescott are now in the rearview mirror as he’s been outstanding in 2019 and nearing career highs in yards and touchdown passes only 10 games in. 

Prescott has completed 247 of 365 passes (67.7 %) for 3221 yards with 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. In the Cowboys’ last three games against the Giants, Vikings, and the Lions, he’s completed 79 of 122 passes for 1098 yards with 9 touchdowns and 1 interception. 

Prescott is now considered an MVP candidate and has a plethora of good targets to throw to. And he’s been spreading the ball around. In the Cowboys win over Detroit, Prescott targeted Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, and Jason Witten seven or more times each as they rolled up 444 passing yards.  

Stopping Elliott Will Present a Tough Matchup:

Despite Prescott’s very high numbers in the passing game, one of the toughest matchups, and a key one for the Patriots defense on Sunday will be trying to slow down the Dallas running game behind Ezekiel Elliott. 

Elliott runs behind one of the premier offensive lines in the NFL and he’s enjoyed great success in his career up to this point. So far in 2019, Elliott has rushed 194 times for 833 yards (4.3-yard avg) with 7 touchdowns. He’s also caught 28 passes out of the backfield for 220 yards and a score. 

His numbers receiving are way down from a year ago but that has to do with two main factors. The Cowboys have so many talented receivers, they’re just spreading the ball around more and keeping everyone involved and secondly, they’re putting him on a pitch count a bit to keep him fresh for a stretch run that they hope will lead to a deep playoff run.

But with the passing game hot right now, Elliott isn’t sweating seeing his touches go down the past two weeks. “The passing game is rolling right now so you’ve got to ride it and ride it while it’s hot,” Elliott said. Slowing him down and forcing the Cowboys into obvious passing situations will be a tough task on Sunday. 

Watch the Dallas Pass Rush Closely:

Dallas, as we stated earlier has a very fast and athletic defense. And the Cowboys’ pass rush will bear consistent watching this week as they take on a Patriots offense where the offensive line is struggling. 

The Cowboys have 26 sacks and are led by Robert Quinn who has 8.5 already this season. Quinn is enjoying a career renaissance in Dallas and besides his sack total has 30 QB pressures on the season. Not bad numbers for a guy who missed the first two games of the season. 

Quinn has been an absolute steal for the Cowboys, Dallas got him for a 6th round draft pick from the Dolphins. His speed rush is his patented move and Isaiah Wynn, in his first game back will have his hands full. Marshall Newhouse, who filled in for Wynn while he was injured struggled mightily with speed rushers. Welcome back Isaiah, your plate is filled already. 

Quinn isn’t even the Cowboys best defensive lineman, that title belongs to DeMarcus Lawrence, who although he has just 4.5 sacks is a load to handle. Lawrence banged up a shoulder against the Lions and may be limited this week. 

Dallas picked up Michael Bennett from the Patriots a few weeks ago and Bennett has 3 sacks in 3 games with Big D. It will be interesting to see how Rod Marinelli the Dallas defensive coordinator game plans this week. I look for the Cowboys to be uber-aggressive in coming after Tom Brady. 

Jason Witten Calls Sunday “A Defining Game” For the Cowboys: 

The Cowboys veteran tight end who has been around the block a few times and spent time in the broadcast booth after a brief one-year retirement isn’t one to make statements lightly. 

That’s why it was interesting to see his comments on the upcoming game. Witten was asked if Sunday’s game is a type of measuring-stick affair for the Cowboys.

“Yeah, I think it is,” Witten said. “These are defining games that happen. You look at last year’s season … and you beat a good New Orleans team. This is one of those games. There’s still a lot of games out there, so I don’t think it’s “make or break”. But at the same time, to be able to go on the road and play against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and their team — they’re 9-1 like they are. A great opportunity for us.”

Expect Dallas to bring their A-Game on Sunday. 

We’ll have our keys to the game and key matchups later tomorrow. Stay tuned… 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Patriots-Packers Week 9, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots return home for a Sunday Night Football game against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots finished off a perfect (4-0) October and have won five games in a row. They’ll be looking to make it six against the very explosive Packers who are smarting off a late loss to the Rams.

This week is the second Patriots prime-time game in a row and the fourth in the past five weeks. They’ve already appeared on Sunday Night Football twice this season. A week three loss to Detroit and the win over Kansas City. Amazingly enough, this is only the second time that Brady and Rodgers will be on the field against each other. That alone will be worth tuning in to watch two of the all-time greats to compete at the same time.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from 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.

The Patriots (6-2) defeated the Bills 25-6 on Monday Night. The game was actually much closer than that for the majority of the game but two late touchdowns put it away. The offense only scored one touchdown but the defense scored one and held Buffalo to only a pair of field goals.

The Packers (3-3-1)  lost to 29-27 to the Los Angeles Rams last week in what seemed like a home game for them in LA. Packers fans outnumbered the Rams fans but Ty Montgomery’s fumble on a kickoff return sealed it after the Rams kicked a go-ahead field goal.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Packers don’t meet very often, this will only be the 12th meeting between the two teams. The regular season matchup is tied at 5 wins apiece. The Packers beat New England in Super Bowl XXXI in the only post-season meeting. Green Bay beat the Patriots in their last matchup 26-21 in Lambeau in 2014. You would have to go all the way back to 2010 since the Packers last visited Gillette. That one was most remembered as the game that Rodgers missed with an injury and Dan Connolly, the Patriots right guard returned a kickoff 71 yards, nearly scoring a TD. It was also, coincidentally the last game the Packers lost that year.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Packers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Green Bay

The Patriots running game had taken off during the last month as Sony Michel has given the Patriots the balance on offense that they were looking for. It worked so well that they were averaging 38 points or better every week for that month. But injuries have really hurt the position.

Jeremy Hill was lost for the year with a torn ACL, Rex Burkhead was placed on IR with multiple concussions, (he can’t return until Week 14). And then Michel went down in the loss to the Bears. They were forced to use WR Cordarrelle Patterson in the tailback role in Buffalo and he, not surprisingly had issues finding holes to run thru.

The Packers have had some issues stopping the run and are allowing 119.1 yards per game and 4.4 yards per rush. Part of that rests with the aggressiveness of the defense, Mike Pettine uses the old Rex Ryan Jets overload scheme and they can be susceptible to the quick hitters to beat the blitz.

With Michel in the backfield, the Patriots would get the nod here, but I tend to think that although he’s back at practice, he probably won’t be able to go this week. That gives the nod to Green Bay.

Patriots WRs vs Packers Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have plenty of weapons for Tom Brady to utilize with Julian Edelman back in the fold, although both Josh Gordon and Rob Gronkowski have been slowed by injuries. Brady also has Chris Hogan and the invaluable James White out of the backfield. Gronkowski, just coming off ankle and back injuries was laboring in Buffalo. On a short week, it will be interesting to see if he gets a jump back in his step.

More intriguing is the injury to Edelman. He took a shot to his shoulder/neck area in Buffalo and was in obvious discomfort the rest of the game. He missed practice on Weds. If he can’t go it is a huge blow to the offense, that is already hurting.

The Packers have been very improved against the pass this season. Led by Jaire Alexander, they cover much better and they have 23 sacks thus far. The overload schemes make things very difficult on the opposition. They allow just 221.7 yards per game thru the air which is the 5th best in the league.

One question will be who replaces Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. Dix was traded at the deadline and played nearly every snap this season. He was the team’s leading interceptor (3) and second-leading tackler (27). They probably will turn to Jermaine Whitehead who was their go-to guy in sub packages, but we may also see CB Tremaine Williams at times. When Pettine was in Cleveland, he often would play Williams at safety. They also have 2017 2nd round draft pick Josh Jones, but he’s been mainly a special teamer this year.

If he can go this week, this will be another tailor-made game for Julian Edelman. His ability to make the tough third-down catches and with he and Brady having the chemistry to read presnap what the defense may do, he’ll be invaluable when the Packers blitz. We look for James White to get a lot of looks once again in the passing game. He currently leads to the team with 55 catches.

It should prove to be an interesting chess match between Pettine and Brady. The two have faced each other quite frequently and the GB defensive coordinator will show plenty of different looks trying to confuse Brady. They’ll show six or seven at the line and then drop seven into coverage or overload blitz on one side. With Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason banged up on the offensive line, the communication between the backups will be key.

Next up the Green Bay offense:

Packers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Green Bay running game will scarcely miss Montgomery after his trade. He fell to the third position in their running game by committee group. They have found their man, however, in their 2nd year running back Aaron Jones. While he’s not the biggest guy at 5’9, 208, he is electric with the ball in his hands. Last week his 33-yard touchdown right up the middle sparked the Packers comeback in the second half.

The Patriots run defense has been steadily improving over the course of the season. Last week they held Bills running backs to just 46 yards in 19 carries. Shady McCoy had just 13 yards on 12 carries. The big men in the middle plus improved linebacker play has been the difference. Kyle Van Noy filled in for Dont’a Hightower last week and was outstanding in the middle.

Look for the Packers to feed Jones who had a career-high 12 carries last week more than that on Sunday night. With the Patriots possibly opting to bring A-Gap pressure with either Hightower or Van Noy, it will be the perfect antidote.  

Packers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Green Bay

The Packers Aaron Rodgers is averaging about 308 yards per game and has a plethora of talented receivers who can all be dangerous with the ball in their hands. It starts with Davante Adams who leads the team with 52 catches for 690 yards and six touchdowns. He’s a threat to take it to the house on every down if he gets free.

Rodgers also has Randall Cobb, TE Jimmy Graham, Geronimo Allison, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and reserve TE Lance Kendricks who can chip into the passing game. Rodgers remains excellent at making plays with his feet, once he’s flushed out of the pocket. The Packers have given up 24 sacks but coming after Rodgers is a risky proposition.

The Patriots have given up a lot of yardage this season, that won’t change on Sunday but the key is making some stops in the red zone. Going back to that 2014 game, Rodgers shredded the NE secondary but they only scored two touchdowns. They’ll need that kind of effort again. The issue is pressure or lack of it from the Patriots defensive line. They have to squeeze the pocket without losing containment or they’ll get toasted this week.

Look for Rodgers to spread them out and try to run those crossers underneath that drive the Patriots mad every week. Adams and Stephon Gilmore should be a good battle to watch but the key this week is the secondary targets Cobb and Allison going against Jason McCourty. The Patriots will also have to watch Graham closely with Chung and LB help.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have gotten another very solid season from Stephen Gostkowski but the rest of their special teams play has been wildly inconsistent. After getting two scores from STs in Chicago, they took a step back in Buffalo.

The Packers counter with the normally automatic Mason Crosby but he went thru a rough patch and has only hit 17-22 field goals this year. Their return game is where they miss Montgomery the most. They can either use Marquez Valdes-Scantling or activate WR Trevor Davis from IR.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This much-ballyhooed matchup between Brady and Rodgers who both throw the ball extremely well may come down to which team runs the ball better. The Packers are a much better team than their 3-3-1 record indicates and could easily be a 5-2 or 6-1 team right now. Part of that rests on head coach Mike McCarthy. They’ve come out flat in a few games and they saw that they just can’t show up and win. They came out strong and played an excellent 60-minute game against the undefeated Rams last week and if not for Montgomery’s fumble may have won that one.

Now they travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots where they are awfully tough to beat. Rodgers has the personnel to do that and the experience to take what is out there. They won’t panic if they get down a score or two because they are so explosive.

Third downs and special teams play may ultimately decide who takes away the win here. While a lot of people are expecting another huge scoring game akin to the Kansas City Week 6 matchup, I see this one playing out like the 2014 game, with scoring in the mid to high 20s.

If this game were in Green Bay, I’d say the Packers and Rodgers would cruise, but it isn’t and Gillette is a tough place to play too. Like last week in LA, a late special teams return will spark New England to bring home a tough, hard-fought win. Patriots 28-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.