The Dallas Cowboys haven't defeated the New England Patriots since December 15, 1996 at Texas Stadium, a game where Dallas relied on four Chris Boniol field goals for a 12-6 victory. Today, the defending World Champions come to AT&T Stadium, riding a 11-4 record off their bye week.
To make matters worse, the Cowboys haven't won a game following their week two division victory over Philadelphia that put Tony Romo on the shelf along with Dez Bryant. Though both of these Pro Bowl players will be back this season, that day is not today as the Cowboys prepare for perhaps the best team in the league and certainly over the last decade. Does Dallas even have a chance? Smart money would say no, but there are some reasons for optimism. Let's take a look at some last-minute advice for this team as they await the Patriots.
Run, Run and Run Some More
The Patriots are giving up 117 yards per game on the ground but that number doesn't tell the whole story. You see, in week one against the Steelers (without Le'Veon Bell), the Pats gave up 136 yards rushing. The following week against the Buffalo Bills, they gave up 160 yards on the ground. They absolutely stomped the Jaguars the following week as Jacksonville couldn't get anything going.
This would be a great time for the Cowboys' offensive line to step up their game and dominate like the unit everyone knows they can be. Dallas may not have DeMarco Murray anymore, but they definitely have a stable of backs in Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Christine Michael that could wear down a defense if given the opportunity.
New England is giving up six yards per carry on first downs, what better way to get Brandon Weeden in rhythm than by staying ahead of the chains? The Cowboys must return to their rushing ways and control the time of possession in order to have any chance against the Patriots. They do not want to get into a shootout with a team that can drop 50 points on you in a flash.
Clean Up The Muck
This offense has got to play a clean game against these Patriots or it may get ugly quick. Pre-snap penalties and mental mistakes have kept Dallas behind the chains in the past few winnable contests. You simply cannot win a game against a formidable opponent if you have all these mistakes coming up to bite you on drives. A holding call can kill the momentum of an offensive possession.
When the Cowboys find themselves in the red zone, they must find ways to score seven points. Field goals will not get it done in this game and if they can't take advantage of their possessions, this game will be over before it begins. Even if Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are still out, they have to get some people involved and keep the offense moving towards positive results. The offensive line will be the most important catalyst for the Cowboys this afternoon.
Don't Let Tom Brady Get Comfortable
The Bills had a good gameplan against the Patriots, but gave the Patriots three extra possessions with three Bills' turnovers. The Cowboys defense will have Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain, Tyrone Crawford, and Sean Lee on the field together for the first time this year. The defense needs to generate pressure and keep Tom Brady uncomfortable. We've seen the stat all week about how Brady is 1-3 since 2012 in road games in which he's been hit two times or more. That just tells you how seldom people actually get to him. Brady's release is impeccably fast, which puts added pressure on the Cowboys to get guys in his grill. They have to find pressure up the middle and get Brady flustered. The New England offensive line has been starting three rookies thus far and Dallas must take advantage of that interior offensive line. With the cavalry back on defense, they have to keep Brady from trotting down the field on each drive. Get off the field on third downs and get the ball back for the offense.
Turnovers Create Opportunities
A Rod Marinelli-defense is really cooking when it starts getting takeaways. Dallas has struggled in this department but the hope is that with some of the troops back they can start making it happen. It's not that the Cowboys haven't had opportunities for picks and fumble recoveries, but they just haven't been able to make the play. If they can get pressure on Brady and play sound coverage, that opportunistic defense will get chances to strike. Takeaways are perhaps the biggest key to an underdog victory today, at the very least, don't just let the Patriots start pouring on the points.
Dallas will need a ton of help today from their trench players on both sides of the ball. If they can find a way to play with relentless spirit and do all of the above, they certainly have a chance. It may be improbable but it's definitely not impossible.