The mothership crew breaks down some questions leading up to Sunday afternoon’s kickoff.
The Patriots have always been very good at taking away an opponent’s strength. Do y’all think they will continue the trend of shutting down our run game and let Dak fly, or will they flip the script and try to stop the pass? Love reading these every day, thank you both! - BRIAN NICHOLS / CARROLLTON, TX
Rob: That’s why this matchup is so delicious. It’s Bill Belichick, and you never know exactly what Bill Belichick will do. The Pats haven’t really shown a weakness on defense, but their biggest strength is probably the secondary. Confidence in their DBs could mean they devote more hats to stopping the run. Then again, that recipe hasn’t worked against Dak Prescott the last two games. The Cowboys have shown they can be a pick-your-poison offense. No better test than Sunday.
Lindsay: Great question, Brian, and I’ve been thinking and talking to people about this all week. There’s no doubt this Cowboys offense is a double-edged sword in 2019. Think Bill is going to make sure to stop the run, and trust Stephon Gilmore and the rest of his talented secondary to match up and run with Dak’s receivers.
Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to miss Patriots game due to neck injury - Jori Epstein, USA Today
The Cowboys will be without starting LB Leighton Vander Esch against the Patriots, but Sean Lee to step in to fill the void.
FRISCO, Texas — Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said this week he believes the health of the team is one of its strengths entering a matchup with the 9-1 New England Patriots.
But at least important one starter will miss Sunday’s game due to injury.
Second-year linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will not be available as he deals with a recurring neck issue. Vander Esch sat out Dallas’ Nov. 5 game against the New York Giants to rehab his neck but returned to play against the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.
He practiced as recently as Thursday but symptoms resembling his earlier-season neck injury returned.
“So we had him checked out,” coach Jason Garrett said Friday morning. “We don’t think it’s career-threatening. … We think it just needs to calm down, and needs a little time to calm down.”
Brady is expected to play, but could the throwing arm injury hamper the Patriots passing game?
Friday’s arrival of injury reports across the NFL delivered a surprise.
Brady was a late addition to the injury report, appearing only on Friday as a limited participant alongside a lengthy list of teammates, including tackle Marcus Cannon (illness), safety Patrick Chung(heel/chest), and receivers Phillip Dorsett (concussion) and Julian Edelman (shoulder).
A few saw slight upgrades in status Friday: receiver Mohamed Sanu (ankle) went from a non-participant to limited, while receiver Matthew Slater(hamstring) and cornerback Jason McCourty(groin) were also late additions as limited participants.
Brady had a long run of landing on the injury report back in the day of probable statuses, typically with the listed health issue related to his right shoulder. But a surprise questionable designation at the end of the week, well after the midpoint of the regular season, with a concern related to the elbow on his throwing arm is mildly alarming.
Riddle me this: How brainteasers help Dallas Cowboys prepare to outwit opponents like Patriots - Jori Epstein, USA Today
This is awesome work from Jori Epstein on how the Cowboys uniquely prepare for opponents.
FRISCO, Texas— It’s Saturday morning, just after position group meetings, when Amari Cooper and fellow Cowboys receivers grab an 11x17-inch piece of paper covered in size-10-font writing.
Cooper scans fill-in-the-blank questions along the double-sided cheat sheet with which Cowboys receivers review tricky plays, key route releases and assignments against their next opponent. Then Cooper settles on his favorite part of the quiz—the “reason to look at the test,” Cooper jokes.
In all-caps, bolded, underlined font at the end of the quiz reads the word “BONUS.” A riddle that has nothing to do with football follows. Cooper typically ponders it for the next five minutes.
“I am a horse without legs and a body, I jump but never run,” began one riddle this season that receivers coach Sanjay Lal specifically intended for his chess-loving star wideout. “What kind of horse am I?”
(The answer—a chess knight—popped into Cooper’s head after about 30 seconds, he says with a smile.)
It’s time for everyone to realize that there’s a new style of offense in Dallas, but is that a good thing (yes)? Dan Graziano breaks it down.
Are the Cowboys playing too fast?
That they are playing faster than they used to play is not in dispute. The 2019 Cowboys average 26.6 seconds between plays, which is calculated from the start of the play clock until the snap. That’s the fifth-fastest rate in the NFL. In 2016-18, they averaged 29.6 seconds between plays, which was the third-slowest. Former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was often criticized for running a plodding offense, and the numbers show that he absolutely did. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has picked up the pace. But if you’re running plays three seconds faster and running only three more plays per game, it’s easy to see how the time of possession edge gets wiped out.
This is obviously working for the offense. Dallas leads the NFL in yards per game (444.6) and yards per play (6.7). But the time-of-possession issue shows up. The Cowboys have averaged 31:19 time of possession in their six wins and just 26:27 in their four losses. Since the start of the 2016 season, they are 29-7 in games in which they have the ball longer than their opponent does, and they’re 10-15 in games in which they don’t.
Tony Pollard, Cowboys’ X-factor in Week 12 Against the New England Patriots - Brian Martin, Inside the Star
Tony Pollard has been heating up over the last week or two, could Sunday’s game be the rookies breakout performance?
If there’s a weakness with New England’s defense, it might be with their linebacker core. They are at their best as a downhill, attacking linebackers against the run, but really struggle when asked to play in space or in coverage. This is where I believe Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore needs to attack the Patriots defense and Tony Pollard is the perfect chess piece to use.
The Patriots like to rotate their LBs (Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower) throughout the game to keep them as fresh as possible, but there’s not a single one of them who can match Tony Pollard’s agility and speed. Kellen Moore must take advantage of this mismatch and find some way to get Pollard out in space against anyone of these LBs.
Taking advantage of this mismatch could actually kill two birds with one stone. This could also be the best way for the Dallas Cowboys to get off to a fast start. It’s also probably the best way to discombobulated the Patriots defense and throw them off the game plan. If successful, this could give the Cowboys just the advantage they need to leave Foxboro with a victory.
Amari Cooper is earning a payday from the Cowboys, but who will negotiate it? - Michael Gehlken, Dallas Morning News
Do we now know why Amari Cooper hasn’t signed a contract extension?
FRISCO — A split between two prominent NFL agents could impact Amari Cooper’s contract negotiations with the Cowboys, but the wide receiver is not thinking about that now, he said.
Joel Segal and Chafie Fields have shared a listing on Cooper’s Standard Representation Agreement, certifying both to represent the three-time Pro Bowler. But recently, Segal and Fields parted ways. Fields left Lagardère Sports and Entertainment to join Wasserman Media Group as an executive vice president.
For months, there have been rumblings about a potential disruption involving Cooper’s representation. This was vaguely cited by some familiar with the contract situation when contextualizing the stalemate that existed in offseason negotiations between Cooper and the Cowboys.
Cooper is in the final year of his rookie deal.
The team hopes to extend him before the contract’s March 18 expiration date. March 10 is the deadline for NFL clubs to designate players with a franchise or transition tag. Cooper would be an obvious candidate if no long-term pact is reached by then.
Cooper said that, between Fields and Segal, he hasn’t determined how he’ll proceed with his representation.
“I haven’t talked to any of those guys about that yet, so I don’t know,” he said Thursday with a laugh.
The Cowboys would have preferred to extend both Cooper and quarterback Dak Prescott before this season. Although they didn’t culminate in an agreement, more talks transpired with the latter than the former.
Has the Cowboys defense been as bad as most think?
Looking at the numbers, through the first ten games of each season, the 2019 rushing defense is definitely lagging behind in the amount of rushing touchdowns allowed. However, they have given up the second-fewest yards per attempt of the four-year span.
The problem is the sheer amount of rushes attempted. Rushing numbers can be greatly skewed based on situational football. Teams are running more on Dallas in 2019 than in 2016 due to the fact that the Cowboys were getting off to quick starts in 2016 and then methodically draining the clock, forcing teams to try to pass against them if they wanted any hope of making a comeback.
Teams run the ball when ahead but abandon it when they are playing from behind. The Cowboys have been playing from behind nearly every week this season which has put the defense to the test early and often. The reality is, yes, the Cowboys’ rush defense is worse than a season ago, but overall, based on yards given up, the defense is actually playing better than they’ve been given credit.
Another difference could be the fact that the young linebacker core has been more banged up this season than last. Leighton Vander Esch will miss the contest against New England on Sunday which could be more bad news for a unit looking to change the opinion that people have had of them so far this season.
We’ve got some thoughts the day before the big game. Check out the latest episode of Talkin’ The Star to hear them.
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Here’s how Cowboys fans are feeling entering Week 12.