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Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ top-flight attack will give the Patriots a lot to deal with on Sunday.
When the Patriots run – Edge: Cowboys
Things didn’t quite go as planned this season for the Patriots running game. Damien Harris was supposed to be the leader of a very deep team of full-backs, each capable of making plays and being productive. But Harris has been inconsistent, groped twice, and is now healing a rib injury that forced him out of the win over Houston on Sunday. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson missed his first game and did not return for a month. He was active against the Texans but finished with 23 yards on 11 carries. James White is on the injured list with a hip injury, and JJ Taylor’s fumble left him on the inactive list rather than in line to replace some of the production lost by White’s absence. It’s not exactly a great way to approach a game against the Cowboys, who are fifth in the league against the run, allowing just 79 yards per game. Part of that success is due to the Dallas offense, which provided leads and kept opponents from rushing. However, opponents are averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which puts the Cowboys in the middle of the pack in 15th place. The fact that the Patriots offensive line deals with COVID-related injuries and absences is also a factor, and the Tarell Basham Cowboys front, Osa Odighizuwa, Carlos Watkins, Brent Urban and Chauncey Golston should be able to hold the Patriots in check, especially if Harris is limited.
When the Patriots Pass – Edge: Patriots
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn did a great job transforming the Dallas unit from a historically evil group into a usable outfit. This is especially true in high school where Trevon Diggs was one of the best players in the league. Diggs has six interceptions this season and at least one in every game, leading a Cowboys high school that still has a few warts but has played much better than a year ago. Dallas is allowing a ton of yards in the air, ranking 31st in the league with 311 yards per game. Corners Diggs, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis join safeties Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson, the latter having missed the last four games with a groin injury. No stars in that squad, but the Cowboys have 10 interceptions this season, so rookie Mac Jones will have to be careful with football around ball hawker Diggs in particular. Jakobi Meyers continues to lead the way in terms of goals, but tight end Hunter Henry has emerged over the past two weeks as a viable re-zone option with touchdowns in each of the last two games. Dallas can put pressure on the passer, so the offensive line, which stays on the move, will need to provide some protection for Jones to be able to move the ball with the short passes he has used effectively so far this season.
When the Cowboys Run – Edge: Cowboys
Dallas has an explosive offense and while Dak Prescott and the passing game get the most attention, the Cowboys can handle the ball well as well. Dallas is averaging two fullbacks better than 5 yards per carry as Ezekiel Elliott has five rushing touchdowns and 452 yards to lead the way while Tony Pollard adds 325 yards and an impressive 6.4 yards on 51 attempts. As a team, Dallas is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on 163 attempts, indicating that the Cowboys are able to move the ball on the ground consistently. On the other hand, the Patriots are coming off their best game of the season in terms of stopping the race. New England ended Houston’s rushing offense and improved in that department and now ranks 14th in the league allowing 111 yards per game. Against Tampa, Bill Belichick chose to allow a few rushing yards by adding additional defensive backs to the roster and a similar plan could very well be in effect this week. Either way, the Patriots will need to ensure that Lawrence Guy, Davin Godchaux and Christian Barmore build their strong performances against the run in Houston and not allow Elliott and Pollard to control the play on the field for the visitors.
When the Cowboys Pass – Edge: Cowboys
Things won’t get any easier for the Patriots high school as Prescott and the Cowboys can put points on the cluster board. Prescott rebounded from his horrific ankle injury and posted MVP-like numbers early on and brought Dallas on a four-game winning streak, scoring 36 or more in each of the last three. Prescott has 13 touchdowns and just three picks while compiling a 116.9 passer rating this season and has plenty of options to choose from. Amari Cooper (25 receptions, 318 yards, 4 touchdowns), CeeDee Lamb (24-348-2) and Cedrick Wilson (10-126-2) averaged better than 12 yards per catch and tight ends Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin have combined for four touchdowns. This group will put a lot of pressure on a Patriots secondary who was statistically excellent but had a terrible performance in Houston. JC Jackson is expected to see plenty of Cooper, and Jalen Mills will need to regain his health quickly after missing the Texans game with a hamstring injury. He will be needed to help contain Lamb, a dynamic presence able to align inside and out. Belichick will likely use a lot of body and combinations to try and contain Prescott, which he managed to do in 2019 when the Cowboys quarterback scored 19 of 33 for 211 yards and a pick in a 13-9 win. of the Patriots. However, this game was played in constant wind and rain, and that task will be much more difficult this time around assuming the weather is not a factor.
Special Teams – Edge: Patriots
Nick Folk continues to be one of the Patriots’ most effective players and was instrumental in the team’s victory in Houston after making two 52-yard baskets and adding the game winner just seconds off. the end. Kick-off coverage also turned into a solid effort in Houston, limiting the dangerous Andre Roberts on his three comebacks. Dallas has veteran Greg Zuerlein, who has scored 9 of 11 field goals and hasn’t missed a beat since opening night. It is also connected on 17 of the 19 PATs. Bettor Bryan Anger doesn’t have a lot of work to do, as he’s only been kicked 13 times all season. But he was efficient averaging 49.5 yards and placed seven inside the 20s on a single touchdown. Jake Bailey has been his normal efficient self with seven in the 20s as well. Neither team generated much in the second leg, with Gunner Olszewski handling both punts and kicks in Houston for the first time this season. Dallas uses Pollard on kicks and Lamb and Wilson on punters, but there haven’t been many chances for either of them so far this season. The Patriots need to keep playing flawlessly in the kicking game and avoid the penalties that plagued them early in the season.