All I hear is Brady vs El Tigre, O.G. 81 vs New Money 81, Witten vs Watson, Maroney vs MB3 (although not nearly as much as you might expect, given that they were at Minnesota together), but how do the respective Defenses match up?
Overall for the season?
Points allowed defensively:
Note: For the season, Dallas has given up a total of 96 points, but I'm only counting the ones actually given up by the defense. The other four TDs came off of Tony's INTs and Special Teams... let's try not to do that any more.
Total yards allowed:
Pats: 251.4 ypg
Boys: 285.4 ypg
Note: Dallas played a poor defensive game in the season opener, giving up 35 points and 438 yards. In the four games since, they've given up an average of 8.25 points and 247.3 yards. It's perfectly fair to point out that they have done this against bad offensive teams, but the fact is, in the NFL, you simply can't fake it week in and week out. Both teams are being payed to show up and win, and anytime you can consistently dominate the competition you rightly deserve any and all props that come your way.
Yards allowed per play are almost identical (4.6 for the Pats, 4.7 for the Boys), teams have simply run more plays against Dallas because The Red Ball Express has put up more quick strike scoring drives.
Passing yards allowed:
Pats: 177.2 ypg
Boys: 204.8 ypg
Note: Let's look a little deeper here, because as true football fans know, yardage doesn't always tell the full story. Both teams are getting good pressure (14 sacks for NE, 12 for Dallas), but Dallas has an edge in opponent's passer rating (64.8 against 70.9 for New England).
Both teams are giving up nearly identical completion percentages (58.4 for Dallas, 58.8 for New England) and yards per attempt numbers (6.3 for NE, 6.3 for Dallas), but Dallas had picked off two more passes (10 to 8) and given up one fewer passing TD (6 to 7), which accounts for their better rating against the pass.
Dallas has been a little more susceptible to the deep pass, but probably not as much as you might think. Dallas has allowed 14 plays of over 20 yards to New England's 11, but the Cowboys have allowed two plays of over 40 yards to the Pats zero.
Rushing yards allowed:
Pats: 74.2 ypg
Boys: 80.6 ypg
Note: Yards per attempt are identical (3.6 to 3.6), and both teams have given up exactly one rushing TD. Dallas has given up two fewer rushing first downs (21 for Dallas, 23 for NE), but teams have run on them a little more often (111 times vs 102 times for the Pats), which explains why NE has a slight advantage in yards against.
This one's a push, folks. Any statistical variations have more to do with the fact that Dallas has put up quick scoring drives more often than the more methodical Pats, therefore giving the opposition more opportunities to run plays against them.
You could make a very slight case that Dallas has faced a higher quality of running back, given how Derrick Ward and Ronnie Brown have lit up the league, and how good Brian Leonard looked last week when he wasn't getting punched in the mouth by Brady James on every play, but I wouldn't put much stock in that. Pats gave up a TD and a couple of extra yards to Marshawn Lynch, but both teams did a good job against him.
Third down percentage:
Note: Pats get the edge here (best in the league), but it should be noted that 38% is still good enough for eighth overall, and is well within an acceptable range for an elite defense, comparable with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have almost identical numbers in attempts, completions, and percentage allowed. The Steelers are currently the best team in the NFL in both yards and points allowed.
Simply put, third down defense will decide this game, one way or another. New England was flat-out bad on third downs offensively against Cleveland (2 of 12, 16%), and if Dallas can continue that trend, then they will win the game.
Conclusions: I have no frickin' clue who's going to win this game, but what I do know is that the Dallas defense is flying waaayyyy under the radar, comparatively speaking, and will likely put up a much tougher fight than anyone suspects against the "unstoppable" Pats.
If I'm a starter on this Cowboys D, I'm seething to go in this game, because all I've heard about in the last week is about how Tom Brady is going to roll into my house and slap me around. Everyone keeps talking about how this is a matchup of the two best offenses in the NFL, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if the winner in this one is the first team to break 20, most likely with a field goal late in the game.