Every week on Behind Enemy Lines, we listen in on the next Dallas Cowboys opponent to figure out what they are saying about the Cowboys, what they are saying about themselves, and what others are saying about either team. Today, we’re listening in on the New England Patriots.
Bill Belichick knows who the Cowboys are
The Hooded One spoke for nearly five minutes about the 'amazing' Dallas Cowboys.
BB on the Cowboys’ talent acquisition and personnel staff
Seeing a lot of these Cowboys the last couple days. This is a really impressive group. I was kind of going back through some of my notes and just looking at this team over a period of years. I would say one thing that really just jumps out, overall, is just the job that they’ve done acquiring talent. I think since 2006, they’ve had, by far, the most Pro Bowl players, and it just seems like they always have, every time we play them, seems like there’s always a lot of good players on the roster. Stephen Jones and the personnel staff have obviously done a great job of selecting players and acquiring players. Stephen’s really done a good job putting a strong roster together. Looking at their personnel staff, there’s a lot of experience down there. Those guys have been there for a long, long time. I think, on their personnel staff, they have over 500 years of NFL experience on that staff. That’s five centuries. It’s amazing. This is not a young group. I say that respectfully because of the job they’ve done, but they’ve been there a long time. They know what they’re looking for. They know what they’re doing. Stephen and the personnel staff and Lionel (Vital) and all those guys have done a remarkable job of consistently acquiring such top-level talent in all three areas.
BB with some praise for the offense
(On the) offensive side of the ball, it’s a really good line. They’ve got some of the top players in the league, and that’s after losing Frederick with his injury situation. Obviously, the skill players are good. Pollard leads the league in yards per carry, and Zeke’s Zeke. Dak’s Dak. You’ve got a couple of great receivers, but all that being said, Schultz is really the receiving leader, which is pretty remarkable considering the guys that Prescott is throwing to.
And even some praise for defense and special teams
Defensively, the front’s impressive. A lot of speed at linebacker. They can cover. They can rush. They can play the run.
Between Lamb and Pollard, the return game is good. Obviously, Coach Fassel, “Bones”, is one of the top special teams coaches in the league, so it’s always a dangerous situation between him and the players. You know Zuerlein’s field goal range. It feels like he can kick them, as soon as they cross midfield, they’re in field goal range. He’s a big weapon, too.
Good mix of young players and guys kind of in their prime and some veteran players and some guys they’ve acquired and added to their team. Guys like Kazee and guys like that, and then there’s other guys that, obviously, are big draft choices and some of their core players. Just overall, very impressive level of talent.
BB on the Cowboys coaches
Offensively, Coach McCarthy and Dan Quinn, I mentioned Fassel, they’re very, very well coached. They do a really good job offensively with their scheme and put a lot of pressure on the defense. Defensively, they, as I said, pretty much do everything well. They’re ranked at the top of the league in almost every category on offense and defense, and they’re good at the kicking game, so not really a lot of weaknesses on this team.
They’re averaging 40 points a game the last three weeks and won pretty decisively. They beat the Chargers. They’re obviously a good team there. A pretty talented team. We know we’re going to have to play our best game, and that’s what we’re getting ready to do.
Transcript: Bill Belichick Press Conference 10/13 - Patriots.com
Belichick also took some questions.
On if Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense likes to run short-passing plays:
BB: If they're open. If they're open down the field, he'll throw it down the field. He'll throw it to everybody. Whoever's open, and, a lot of times, he's got two or three guys to choose from. It's a hard group to cover. Lamb's a very explosive player. Cooper's a really good route runner. Obviously, the backs are a problem when they get the ball. Tight ends are the leading receivers, so take your pick, and he [Dak Prescott] can run too, so there's a sixth receiver there.
On Kellen Moore's offense:
BB: They're balanced. They're good at everything. I think Moore is one of the better offensive coordinators that we've faced. He does a good job. It's not just the players. They have a good scheme. They're well balanced. They do a lot of things that complement other things that they do. They put a lot of stress on the defense.
It's just the balance of what you have to defend. It's not just runs and passes. It's passes that complement other passes. It's runs that complement other runs. Runs that complement passes. It's everything. It's not just one thing.
On if Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme this year is similar to what is has been in the past with other teams:
BB: The foundation of it is similar. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the same.
On what is different about it:
BB: They’ve changed some things. They added some things.
On if he thinks the Cowboys invite blitzes:
BB: You have to ask them that.
But do the Patriots know what the 2021 Patriots are all about?
Through five games, the New England Patriots still trying to figure out what they’re good at.
At 2-3 and one game out of a Wild Card spot, they’re neither good nor bad — they’re middling. Their offense, with so many new players, ranks near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories but has improved virtually every week. By contrast, the defense ranks near the top in most categories but alternates between playing well against Tom Brady and poorly against Davis Mills. The Patriots have the best head coach in the NFL, but thus far have played sloppy, undisciplined football. They’re not soft, but they also aren’t exactly playing smash-mouth football. They’re not brutally slow, but they also don’t field many burners. The roster feature plenty of experience but, in football years, is pretty old.
That’s a long way of saying this team currently has no identity.
New England’s offense has the potential to be an above-average unit, and recent returns are encouraging. But it might take a while for all the new pieces to fully mesh and Mac Jones, for all his toughness and clear talent, still is a work-in-progress rookie.
So, if New England wants to go on a run and eventually be in control of its own destiny, the defense must lead the way. It has the talent to do just that and, in Judon, might develop the kind of attitude that will allow it to be the emotional heartbeat of this Patriots team.
Sunday’s game against Dak Prescott and the high-powered Dallas Cowboys offense presents a difficult test. However, it also provides New England’s defense with an opportunity to establish itself as the face of the Patriots, capable of carrying a promising offense still working things out.
The hope in Boston is that soon, either by circumstance or deliberate action, offensive habits will develop, and a Patriots identity will emerge.
According to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots are close to declaring the team they want to be.
McDaniels believes it takes six to eight weeks for an offense to learn its strengths and weaknesses. During that time, preseason expectations are either verified or disproved. The Patriots were supposed to boast one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, a notion that’s quickly been dispelled.
Their offense was also expected to revolve around free-agent tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. While Henry has scored a touchdown in two straight games, Smith’s undeniably disappointed.
McDaniels says there’s more to unlock from his two-tight end package — but the Patriots need to start faster to showcase what his star tight ends can do. They rank 26th in first-quarter points and scoring offense overall.
“If we can start better and get ahead and get the lead and play from ahead in those situations, you generally then have more choices as to what you want to be in as opposed to what you have to be in,” McDaniels said. “So I definitely think there’s more to two those two guys being on the field together. There’s no question about it in all situations that we’re looking forward to trying to develop. And again, hopefully we can gain control of the games.”
Looks like New England linebacker Matt Judon has an idea of what the Patriots are all about.
“I didn’t know too many people on the team, honestly,” Judon said. “I thought everybody was, like, some stuck up… It was like the rich school that always won. Like, skip them dudes, man. Skip them dudes, for real."
And can they figure it out fast enough?
Can the Patriots get out to a fast start?
Early last December, head coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots were working “literally every day” to generate more early-game scoring.
Ten months later, there still is work to be done.
Through five games this season, the Patriots have totaled just 10 first-quarter points, tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL. All 10 of those came during a Week 2 rout of the cellar-dwelling New York Jets. They’ve been held scoreless in the opening 15 minutes of each of their other four contests.
A fast start will be vital Sunday against the Cowboys. Dallas currently boasts the NFL’s highest-scoring first-quarter offense (9.0 points per game) and is the league’s second-highest-scoring team overall (34.0), trailing only the Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots, led by rookie quarterback Mac Jones, have yet to surpass 25 points in a game this season and rank in the bottom 10 in scoring offense.
Last week, we heard about how the game against Dallas would be part of Daniel Jones’ evolution as a top NFL QB. Jones left the game with 5-for-13 passing and a 65.5 passer rating. How will Mac Jones fare?
Sunday will be his toughest test yet, though. The Cowboys are averaging the second-most points per game in the league, so the Patriots will have to put up points.
Dallas also has a ball-hawking defense that’s second in the league in turnovers, so there’s going to be a point in this game where Mac Jones has to make plays without making mistakes. In order to keep up with the Cowboys’ offense, the Patriots are going to have to win the possession battle, sustain drives and convert those drives into points.
But as he continues to grow in this offense, the next step is the Patriots giving him more of a voice in what’s going on. They’ll give him more ability to get out of certain plays when he sees something at the line of scrimmage. When he recognizes a potential blitz, for example, he can check to a seven-man protection and protect himself by signaling something to the wide receiver group.
Is throwing to Diggs part of the “development” for Mac Jones?
Six interceptions in five games. On pace for 20 takeaways in just Year 2 of his career, after no player has intercepted more than 10 passes in a season the last 30 years. Cowboys teammates laugh each time the next ball is picked off, asking themselves: Why are quarterbacks still throwing to Diggs?
New England rookie quarterback Mac Jones suggested he won’t be the first to avoid Diggs.
“You can’t be afraid of anybody or anything like that,” Jones told reporters. “You just have to know where he’s at because you have to respect him, respect his game, respect his knowledge.”
3. Dak Prescott
Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham fooled Prescott for one quarter. It's going to take a special defense to do it four straight. No quarterback makes 40-burgers look more routine.
23. Mac Jones
A big fourth-quarter comeback win on the road was a nice box for Jones to check, even if it came in Houston. Still, the game provided a reminder of how Jones is playing with a smaller margin for error than most. His game-tying touchdown pass to Hunter Henry required anticipation that just got the ball there in time, while his arm strength was an issue on another play where he had to reset out of the pocket, leading to one of a few near-interceptions.
The worldwide leader explains how 15th overall pick Mac Jones is putting together quite the rookie season
Jones’ performance marked his NFL-best fourth outing this season with a completion percentage of at least 70% (min. 20 passes). He broke down the other key elements behind New England’s comeback victory.
“It felt really good,” Jones explained about the win. “I think the offensive line did a great job, and I think it all starts with them, so they were doubted all week and there was this and that and they came out and they played really hard. They played together, and I think I only got hit one time the whole game, so just shout-out to those guys, and they’re a big reason why it happened.”
Such protection can only bode well for Jones’ continued growth as New England’s new leading man.
Patriots QB Mac Jones now has 135 completions, tied for the most by any rookie QB in his first five starts in NFL history (Joe Burrow). He’s completing just over 71% of his passes.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 10, 2021
Certainly has areas to improve on, but a lot to be impressed by early from him too.
Cowboys-Patriots Preview: Pats are going to need to score big to pull off upset - Phil Perry, NBC Sports Boston
Out of Boston comes this lullaby for the Dak hater hive:
It may sound like hyperbole. It's not. Dak Prescott is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. By almost any measure. Traditional statistics. Advanced statistics. Eye test. Whatever.I
His team is one of the best in the league at 4-1, and he's second in the NFL in quarterback rating (116.9). He's second in completion percentage (73.9), third in touchdowns (13) and ninth in yards per attempt (8.3). He's first in third-down rating (130.1).
Prescott is getting rid of the football, on average, in 2.52 seconds -- the sixth-quickest release time in the league, per Pro Football Focus. His offense is third-best in the NFL in schedule-adjusted expected points added, according to Five Thirty Eight, and fifth in passing EPA. On passes that travel 20 yards or more down the field, he ranks fourth in adjusted completion percentage, per Pro Football Focus. He's fourth in terms of his yards per attempt on short attempts thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Against the Giants last week, Prescott was blitzed on over 40 percent of his dropbacks and threw three touchdown passes when blitzed. It was the third time he'd accomplished that feat this season. The only other quarterback to do it once in 2021? Tom Brady against the Cowboys in Week 1.
So what can the Patriots do about that? Treat Prescott like Tom Brady, of course!
The plan for Belichick and his defense could ultimately look pretty similar to what they showed the last time they were at Gillette Stadium. Going against a quarterback who makes you defend the whole field, against a quarterback who feasts against the blitz, against a receiving group with multiple explosive options and a reliable pass-catching tight end? Why not turn to the Tom Brady Plan?
Against the Bucs, the Patriots blitzed on eight of Brady's 45 dropbacks. Oftentimes they rushed three or four. They dropped numbers into coverage to flood the field with blue jerseys, and muddied reads in the middle of the field.
Zeke, Pollard, you’re up!
Jonathan Jones expects Cowboys’ offense to test Patriots’ defense - Mark Inabinett, al.com
Will the Patriots defense be up to the challenge of the Cowboys offense?
The New England Patriots have one of the highest-ranked defenses in the NFL and held their former franchise quarterback Tom Brady to 19 points two weeks ago.
But three of New England’s five games have come against the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Houston Texans – three of the four least-productive offenses in the NFL this season.
On Sunday, the Patriots’ defense will take “the challenge” of the Dallas Cowboys’ offense. New England cornerback Jonathan Jones said the Patriots are ready.
“They have depth in every position,” Jones said. “They have receivers that can get open, running backs that run hard, and their O-line, they’ve been one of the top O-lines for years, so we’ve got our work cut out for us, but we’re ready for the challenge.”
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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