- Dez Bryant
- Lance Dunbar
- Brice Butler
- Kellen Moore
- James Hanna
- Terrel McClain
- Ryan Russell
It does not look as if either Bulter or Hanna will be able to play this week, which is unfortunate as both could have played a big role against the Patriots. Butler’s injury unfortunately means Devin Street will have to take significant snaps on the outside.
After his performance over the past few weeks I was ready to have Lucky Whitehead active over Street, who has provided absolutely nothing for the offense. This week I feel Matt Cassel will dress as the back up Quarterback to Brandon Weeden.
Cowboys Offense vs Patriots Defense
I will go slightly against the grain and say that while the Patriots have shown struggles against the run in the first quarter of the season, they have had two weeks to work on cleaning it up. They have also had two weeks to think of nothing else besides the Dallas Cowboys and their offensive tendencies with Brandon Weeden as their Quarterback.
It’s also a foregone conclusion that they will again attempt to take away Jason Witten as they have during each matchup between these teams.
The key is to do something out of character, which leads me to believe the Cowboys may be their most dangerous in a four-minute offense. Brandon Weeden effectively marched the ball down the field against the Saints when pressed into the situation. He has been quoted as saying, “We practice that situation more than anyone in the NFL.”
Lucky Whitehead has the same traits as Lance Dunbar; using him to run quick screens, Texas routes, and other underneath routes could keep the Patriots Defense off balance. If the Cowboys quickly rush to the line, it will also allow Witten to not have to deal with double teams and bracket coverage all game.
Rotating between 10 (One Running Back and Zero Tight Ends) and 0 (No backs or ends) personnel packages could confuse and wear out the Patriots. I feel this approach would work best with Darren McFadden, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, and Lucky Whitehead on the field. With Gavin Escobar rotating with Whitehead.
With the field spread out it gives Weeden the opportunity to see the field and immediately identify mismatches pre-snap.
The Cowboys would still be able to run the ball out of this package. This would be a wrinkle that the Patriots would not expect from the Cowboys and could give the unit a competitive advantage.
On paper, the Patriots Defense is far from overwhelming, but their offense is scoring nearly forty a game. Therefore, the Cowboys Offense will need to score points and not worry about keeping Tom Brady off the field. At this juncture, you have to go in assuming that upwards of thirty points will be needed in order to win.
Key Match Up: Scott Linehan vs Matt Patricia
Scott Linehan will have to call an amazing game, period. The entire Offensive Coaching Staff will have to make sure they have a scheme and game plan with the mindset of having to win in a shootout.
Even though Jason Garrett is not fond of trick plays, this would be the game for Scott Linehan to pull one out. It is something Patricia and Bill Belichick wouldn’t have seen on film and could steal a touchdown of field position for the team.
Even the Flea Flicker that Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer Nick Eatman calls for would be a wrinkle that could catch the Patriots off guard. Linehan will have to take the handcuffs off Weeden, open the playbook up, and show no fear with aggressive play calls.
Slight Advantage Patriots
Cowboys Defense vs Patriots Offense
The Tom Brady led unit presents a stiff challenge for the Cowboys Defense, yet there are ways to slow them down. This would be a great game to have Randy Gregory, but with Rolando McClain, Greg Hardy, and a seemingly healthy Sean Lee, the Cowboys have a fighting chance.
The battle starts up front. I know Rod Marinelli has stressed getting pressure to Brady is the one way to limit his efficiency. If the Defensive Line is able to cause Brady to move from his initial spots, that should be considered a success on every play.
Well-timed blitzes are also important.
If Marinelli is able to disguise a blitz and the looks he gives Brady they may be able to break his rhythm. This is a game Tyrone Crawford really needs to show up, if he gets constant pressure up the middle Brady will have a difficult time in the pocket.
Mo Claiborne – who proved me wise last week to focus on him – should follow Julian Edelman all over the field. Mo was able to limit Brandin Cooks last week, and the same should be asked of him against Edelman. Press Coverage against Edelman will limit the underneath pass plays to him, taking away one of their top weapons.
Rob Gronkowski should draw Byron Jones all night. If Mo is able to handle Edelman without help, it gives Jones the opportunity to be physical with Gronk off the line and have help over the top. If Gronk lines up on the outside or in the slot, Brandon Carr has the size to match him if he is physical at the line and has help.
The key to limiting Gronk is to always identify where he is on the field and get a hand on him on every single play. Unlike many others, I feel Jones can keep Gronk in check enough to give the Defense a fighting chance.
He was a first round draft pick for moments like this and I have the belief he is ready to make a name for himself against a dynamic player.
If the Cowboys deploy this approach, I feel the onus lays with Carr and Tyler Patmon to not get beat as the Linebackers can handle the Patriots’ running game and Dion Lewis out of the backfield.
If Lee is cleared to play, his playmaking ability will be huge for this defense.
Key Match Up: Cowboys Defensive Line vs Patriots Offensive Line
Plain and simple, the Cowboys can’t just win up front, they need to dominate up front.
Make Brady uncomfortable and this offense can be held down enough to give the Cowboys Offense a chance to win.
Whenever Greg Hardy is on the field he needs to be a difference maker. Jeremy Mincey will also have to play inspired this week. David Irving will need to continue his solid play. They need to hit Brady whenever they can and make sure his pocket is never clean.
It’s a tall order for the Defensive Line this week, but for the Cowboys to win they will have to answer the challenge and give Brady a miserable afternoon in Texas.
Strong Advantage Patriots
Special Teams Match Up
This is where the Cowboys have the advantage and can possibly change the tide of the game. The Patriots have only Punted five times through three games, and if the Cowboys can get another blocked punt or a huge return, the tide of the game can change.
While settling for Field Goals is a disaster in games like this, you would still give Dan Bailey the advantage over Stephen Gostkowski.
While the Cowboys can win, I just have the feeling they will enact a far too conservative Offensive strategy to complete the task. If they come out and simply attempt to establish the run as I expect, I feel that is playing into the Patriots hands and may not provide the best results.
The Defense will play far better than expected as McClain and Hardy are impact players that will help protect Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, and DeMarcus Lawrence. While the Cowboys may lose, Byron Jones will put up an amazing effort against Gronkowski proving that he will develop into a quality hybrid Secondary player for the Cowboys.
To get this victory, they’ll need to capitalize on every opportunity they have for turnovers. They have allowed a number of Interceptions to slip through their fingers and that cannot happen against an offense like this.
This game will be closer than expected if the Defense plays anywhere near their potential.
The Way Of Smooth
While a victory against the defending champions will be difficult, I hope it comes to pass. Mainly because I don’t want to imagine next week if the Patriots dominate this game and see the headlines about Hardy’s comments.
If the Cowboys can fight their way to a win that will dampen that narrative a good deal and save the team from a week of answering unnecessary questions.
Bottom line? Less talk and let’s execute on the field.