Here’s a number: 33. That’s the number of times the Patriots had lost a game in Boston under Bill Belichick prior to the start of this year. That’s right, Belichick entered this year with a 135-33 record in Foxboro Stadium. Even last year, when the Patriots finished with a losing record for the first time since 2000 (Belichick’s first year with the Patriots), they went 5-3 at home.
It’s safe to say that these Patriots teams have always played extremely well at home. You have to go back to that 2000 season to find the last time they lost four or more home games. And yet the Patriots are currently 0-3 in Foxboro so far this season. They’ve won both of their road games to put them at 2-3, but one more loss at home would represent a major blow to the current status of what was once an unstoppable football dynasty.
That’s exactly what the Cowboys will be trying to do on Sunday when they take the field, along with winning their fifth straight game and improving to 5-1 on the year ahead of their bye week. It would also be the first time the Cowboys have beaten the Patriots this century, as their last win came in December of 1996, also known as the last winning season for Barry Switzer.
One thing that’s often a factor in a Patriots’ game is the brilliance of Belichick and his staff, as New England has a tendency to win by out-coaching the opponent. The Cowboys might just have their bases covered there. Mike McCarthy has only faced Belichick four times, winning just once, but two of those three losses were close games. It earned the respect of Belichick, who has called McCarthy “one of the best coaches I’ve ever gone up against.”
Belichick also spent part of Wednesday’s media time raving about the jobs that Dallas’ three coordinators, Kellen Moore, Dan Quinn, and John Fassel, are doing:
Bill Belichick’s lengthy opening statement today breaking down the Cowboys: pic.twitter.com/QyQCd5Bv23— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 13, 2021
Those who know Belichick know that he doesn’t ever talk just to talk, so when he offers up unprompted praise for other coaches like this, it means something. It’s safe to say that the Cowboys coaching staff will do a better job of preparing for this game than the last time these two teams faced off.
As for the game itself, these two teams could not be in more different places. The Patriots are still getting rookie quarterback Mac Jones acclimated to the NFL, and it shows: his average pass only travels 7.7 yards past the line of scrimmage and he is hitting on just three of his 18 passes beyond 20 yards with two interceptions.
Jones also doesn’t have the best array of pass catchers to work with. New England spent an uncharacteristic amount of money in free agency to bring in tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. The Patriots have featured them a lot, going with two tight end sets on just over 27% of their plays and each of them playing a majority of offensive snaps each game.
Aside from that it’s mostly been Jakobi Meyers, whose size and speed has made him a dangerous threat from the slot, where he’s run over 54% of his routes this year. Meyers’ 31 catches and 302 yards both lead the team. However, former first round pick N’keal Harry, who stands at an impressive 6’4” and 225 pounds, recently returned from the injured reserve and this could be the game where he starts to see more action, especially against the smaller Anthony Brown.
On the flip side, Dallas is firing on all cylinders offensively. Dak Prescott looks better than ever, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are putting up career bests, and this unit has scored 18 more points in their last three games than the Patriots have all season. The Patriots haven’t been bad on defense, ranking ninth in DVOA. However, they’ve been susceptible to explosive running games and their pass defense has been especially reliant on man coverage:
The Patriots are last at 33%, leaning heavily on Man-1 a league-high 54.8% of the time.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) October 12, 2021
The Cowboys have the receivers to easily beat man coverage and, again, their rushing attack has looked unstoppable when Kellen Moore actually tries to run it this year. Belichick is known for his defensive mind, so this will still be a challenge, but the Cowboys have the talent to hold their own.
As for Dan Quinn’s defense, Jones presents a similar challenge to Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, at least in terms of the types of passes he attempts. With Jones, there isn’t any worry about scrambling, but defending the short passes and making sound tackles will be the key to bottling the rookie up.
On paper, this looks like an easy game for the Cowboys, and it may end up being that way. Belichick’s reputation and home record aren’t as impactful as the way these teams are playing right now, but it’s still a fool’s errand to bet against Belichick in Foxboro. The win won’t be easy by any stretch, and certainly not as easy as the last three games, but it’s still one this team should be able to handle.
We discussed everything as it relates to the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots during our Preview Show for this week’s game on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. We also spoke to our friends from Pats Pulpit to understand exact what Dallas is up against.
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