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Cowboys Vs. Patriots Key Matchup: Speed Rush Against Tom Brady's Release

Dallas hopes to get more out of their pass rush with the advent of Greg Hardy, but nobody is harder to get to than Tom Brady.

The Cowboys have to get to Tom Brady - in a hurry.
The Cowboys have to get to Tom Brady - in a hurry.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The New England Patriots come into AT&T Stadium as heavy favorites to beat the Dallas Cowboys. With Brandon Weeden still handling quarterback duties and Dez Bryant still recovering, the Cowboys' offense is likely to be a tad limited. The running game is having trouble getting on track, partly because of the limited threats that the Cowboys have in the receiving corps. That lets the other team crowd the box, and the problems for Dallas feed on themselves.

But help has finally arrived for the defense in the form of Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain, and the Cowboys are also hopeful that Sean Lee will be back after clearing the concussion protocol. For Dallas to have any real chance to beat the Patriots, they probably are going  to need the defense to really stand up and make some plays. Against New England, there happens to be one key thing that really makes a big difference. (Hat tip to Micheal Sisemore, who also used this in his latest article.)

With Hardy making his debut, and DeMarcus Lawrence lining up at the opposite end, the chances are very good that Dallas can get those hits and take a little air out of Brady, right?

Well, there is one little problem with that.

One thousand one. One thousand two . . . ball's gone. And don't forget that Brady is one of those quarterbacks who, unlike, say, Tony Romo, gets a flag thrown if it is even close to being a late hit or any contact is made anywhere near the vicinity of his head.

Power rushes generally aren't going to get the job done. It will take true speed, almost certainly off the edge unless one of the tackles can just blow past the interior linemen. There are few pass rushers who can equal the suddenness of Hardy bringing the rush. However, this is his first game back from suspension, and we don't know just how close to his top form he is going to be. If he is close to full speed, then he may be able to get those legal hits on Brady that may throw him off his game or whatever it is that drives the Patriots' record when that happens. And perhaps the attention on Hardy will open up some chances for Lawrence.

The defensive line against the pass blocking is only part of the picture, of course. What other things can Dallas do to try and generate that pressure on the very quick Brady?

Bring the blitz. Rod Marinelli uses extra rushers sparingly, but he has gotten some effective plays this season, including Lee's first career sack. Now, with RoMac joining the team, he has a couple of really strong, fast linebackers that can come after Brady, although any delay on the blitz will probably not be effective. They have to come at the snap, and come hard. This may get one of them to Brady, or free up one of the linemen. Tyrone Crawford was coming on against the New Orleans Saints and David Irving showed some good effectiveness in his first action, and if McClain draw attention inside, they may get that quick penetration. Lee coming off the edge may do the same for Hardy, Lawrence or maybe Jeremy Mincey.

Deny the quick passes. If you force Brady to move off his first and second reads, he can't get that ball out of his hand as rapidly. The problem is that New England has so many receivers that are so good at getting open. Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and of course Rob Gronkowski all can tear a secondary up. The cornerbacks and linebackers are going to have to do their absolute best to knock them off their routes and not let them get leverage to the inside or be open for a fade. If one of those players, or really any other target, are open, Brady is almost always going to find them. Stopping all the offensive weapons is pretty much impossible, but the Cowboys have to slow them down to try and buy an extra second or even half a second for the rushers to get home.

It is not going to be easy against one of the absolute best quarterbacks in the game, but there is a formula for the defense to lift the Cowboys to a victory that no one really expects. It is going to be speed against speed. The fastest side in this particular battle may determine who gets the win on Sunday.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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