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Position battleground (offense): Cowboys vs. Patriots head-to-head breakdown

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 4 matchup between the Cowboys and Patriots on offense.

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys will host the New England Patriots on Sunday during Week 4 of the NFL season. We’ll be comparing their rosters over the next few days, starting with the offense. In a head-to-head battle, which team has the better offense by each position group?

Dak Prescott vs Mac Jones

The Dallas Cowboys offense looked as though they lacked respect for the Arizona Cardinals defense and paid for that with a huge loss last week. The play-calling lacked conviction and purpose, but was also, at times, was confusing. Dak Prescott had to push the offense downfield on a negative game script and failed to pull out the win. There were moments in the game where he looked as though he was taking control and building momentum, but when it mattered most the offense floundered. The interception in the endzone on the Cowboys final drive was a poor decision, that’s on Dak. But for the most part, the entire offense was flat and lacked discipline which killed drives. The lack of discipline and efficiency can also be accounted for due to having three backup linemen protecting Dak, who had major slip-ups last week. One bright spot on the Cowboys offense was its third-down efficiency, where they went 9-16.

This week the Cowboys face the New England Patriots, a defense that allowed zero passing touchdowns last week against the New York Jets. To make matters worse, the Patriots also allowed only 38 yards rushing last week, and so far this season has only allowed 40 yards rushing to quarterbacks. Dak needs to dig deep this week to pull the offense out of the funk it finds itself in and bounce back from a down week. What he needs most is a big redzone target.

For the Patriots, they have what some people refer to as “Captain Check-Down” in Mac Jones. In the first three games of the season, Jones has thrown at least one touchdown each game and at least 200 yards passing. Most of Jones’ success comes from trying to establish the run game which allows the offense to use play-action to help compensate for his deep ball accuracy. The Patriots offensive line is capable of allowing Jones enough time, but Jones is getting the ball out extremely quickly and is third-quickest in time to throw which helps his offensive line. But Jones’ needs that clean pocket in that short time to throw or his accuracy can fall off. He’s thrown two interceptions this year, but he’s had a couple of defenders fail to bring the ball in which could count for a lot more. The missed interception last week against the Jets would have resulted in a pick-six.

Jones was lucky last week in getting the Patriots to a win, throwing barely over a 50% completion rate. But that win was thanks to the defense keeping the score low. Drives stalled, field goals helped keep them ahead and their redzone efficiency has just as many questions as Dallas’ does. This Patriots offense now ranks 26th in total points scored this year.

For Dallas and Dak Prescott, those questions about how this offense plays when adversity strikes and when they play from behind are still waiting for answers. So far this season, this offense has shown it’s dangerous when playing with a lead, but has trouble playing catch-up.
Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Tony Pollard/Rico Dowdle
Rhamondre Stevenson/Ezekiel Elliott

The Cowboys running backs last week were a solid success against the Cardinals. The trouble was the game plan seemed to feature them way too much when it required more pace and tempo that you can only get from the passing game. In terms of redzone play-calling, the Cowboys are now calling a run play on a short field nearly 80% of the time. Regardless of down or distance, while in the redzone, Mike McCarthy is going exclusively to the ground game to get the score. This has made them predictable in the redzone, but one major question is why? Something that needs to change as the running back are suffering with consistency in the redzone as a result.

Against the Cardinals, Tony Pollard had his first 100-yard game this season, and he was over five yards-per-carry. Rico Dowdle also had an incredible game last week. He showed a tremendous hunger to get the first down and urge the offense on. Based on what Dowdle has done the last few weeks, he’s solidified himself as the backup to Pollard and was a good option in the receiving game to score the touchdown. We even saw a sneaky Hunter Luepke rush for nine yards this week. He was also fantastic on some lead blocks to help clear the way.

New England ranks in the top-ten in rush yards allowed this year, allowing an average of only 93 rush yards per game. If the Cowboys have any hope of running against the Patriots they will need to use the Miami Dolphins approach by using speed and quickness. This could be a game for a little extra Deuce Vaughn to skate quickly up field.

This week, Ezekiel Elliott returns to AT&T. He will be shaking hands with close friend Dak Prescott, but in a New England jersey. Zeke started off quietly for the Patriots this season, but he had himself a day last week against the Jets. He remained physical to get extra yards and first downs, exactly the way Cowboys fans remember. He ran for 80 yards with an average of five yards-per-carry. He has yet to make it into the endzone, but he’s getting more touches each week and had 16 attempts last week. Their lead back still remains the same with Rhamondre Stevenson. He’s regressed a little from last year and he’s only averaging 3.1 yards-per-carry this season. He’s scored one touchdown this year, but he’s only making short gains and not a lot of explosive plays. Bill Bellichick has a short level of patience for running backs, so unless he picks up this week against Dallas, that allowed 222 rush yards to Arizona last week, then he could be losing more time to Zeke.

You can argue that both teams have similar narratives about their running back corps. Both are talented, both can win games, but both sides lack consistency. Things were a lot cleaner from Dallas last week in the run game and more efficient. They out-rushed New England last week and has more total rushing scores this season. This win goes to Dallas although it’s going to be a loss to watch Zeke rush against his former team this weekend.
Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

CeeDee Lamb/Brandin Cooks/Michael Gallup vs DeVante Parker/JuJu Smith-Schuster/Kendrick Bourne

In Week 2, we hoped that Michael Gallup’s severe lack of production was more of a game plan response to keep Sauce Gardner busy. That definitely looked the case in hindsight as he was the key receiver against the Cardinals. Gallup made some important drive extending catches and his physical presence helped spur moments of inspiration. He finished the day with six receptions off seven targets for 92 yards and looked much like the Gallup from a couple of years ago.

CeeDee Lamb, for whatever reason, looked different this week, allowing the negativity to get to his head and seemed to retreat when they needed him most. His body language on the field was concerning and very noticeable which affected the way he played. Rico Dowdle scored the only receiving touchdown last week and none of the wide receivers have scored yet for Dallas. What’s most needed for the Cowboys wide receivers is getting open in the redzone. We’ve seen too much of this offense when on a condensed field go to either the running backs or tight ends. It needs a guy from the receiver corps that can be relied upon in the redzone. Last week, the Cowboys went 1-5 when inside the Cardinals redzone. Of the four times they broke the 10-yard mark they came away with a total of six points. One reason for that inefficiency is the lack of options the wide receivers are giving Dak which is confusing when you look at the names on the Cowboys receiver corps. The good news is New England ranks 22nd when defending in the redzone and allowing a touchdown rate of 66%. This will be an interesting measuring stick to see how productive the Cowboys offense can be when it’s needed most.

DeVante Parker missed Week 1 for the Patriots and the the last two games have been fairly quiet for him. He’s had eight receptions for 76 yards in those two games, with last week’s game only going for 19 yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been Mac Jones go-to guy, mostly since Jones prefers to throw at short distance, and Smith-Schuster has an ADot (average depth of target) of barely over five yards, which is insanely short. Last week, Smith-Schuster made the most important receptions that kept Patriots drives alive.

The only wide receiver that has scored a touchdown out of both team’s wide receivers corps is Kendrick Bourne. He plays mostly as an outside receiver and will look to find open space against DaRon Bland, and he will look at how the Cardinals got open so freely against the Cowboys defensive backs last week. Bourne currently leads the Patriots in receiving yards and touchdowns. The only receiver on the practice report this week is Kayshon Boutte, who has missed the last two weeks with a hamstring injury. He only has four targets since joining the Patriots last year

Seeing Michael Gallup step up and explode off the line is exciting to see; he becomes another option. Where this receiver corps is failing has been down in the redzone and they need to do more. Let’s see this group bounce back from a down week.

The Patriots receiver corps will be salivating at how open the Cardinals pass catchers were last week. More discipline and better spacing while taking better angles from the Cowboys defensive backs is a point of emphasis this week.
Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Jake Ferguson vs Hunter Henry

In typical Bill Bellichick style, he’s made the tight end a point of emphasis for his offense this year. Hunter Henry ranks sixth among tight ends in receiving yards and second in receiving touchdowns. Then to add more options at the tight end position, their third tight end, Pharaoh Brown, caught a pass and slowly made his way to the endzone to score the only Patriots touchdown last week. Rounding off the tight end position is ex-Dolphins standout Mike Gesicki, who has 86 yards receiving. Mac Jones keeps checking it down in the short passing game, thus making the moves for reliable pass catching tight ends for the offense sensible.

Jake Ferguson had 48 receiving yards against the Cardinals, he only had 22 yards combined in the first two weeks. An interesting note is Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot are getting open more often and getting more yards of separation than the Cowboys receivers currently. Something that needs to translate in the redzone more.

One part that was effective last week against the Cardinals was slowing Zach Ertz down, who only had six yards receiving. Some of that was down to the Cardinals receivers getting open. But when they tried to get Ertz involved, players like Jayron Kearse was able to shut him down quickly. This week the role on defense of stopping the three-headed monster at tight end the Patriots have will be a major key to victory.
Win: Patriots

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images


The Cowboys had to rotate in three backup players on the offensive line after Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and Tyler Biadasz had to miss the game with various injuries. At first things looked a little rough for the three rookies, but as the game progressed it got better. One thing that was inexcusable from the offensive line was the pre-snap penalties. Of the eight penalties on offense, the offensive line accounted for six with most occurring in the first half. Ironically, the player most penalized was veteran starter Terence Steele. These penalties really stalled the offense and got them out of rhythm.

This week keep watch of all three starters on the practice report, although Tyron Smith looked close to playing last week and was a last-minute decision. The Patriots defensive line doesn’t get a whole lot of pressure or sacks, but they are very effective at stopping the run. Having the combination of Martin and Steele back on the right will be important this week to establish dominance on that side of the field in the run game.

Mac Jones has been sacked the eighth-most in the NFL and his line last week allowed a total of 13 pressures against the Jets. This is one major problem for the Patriots offense and could look worse if Mac Jones wasn’t getting the ball out so quickly. Cole Strange has been struggling slightly and left the game early last week, so keep watch to see how he practices this week. Also missing is rookie guard Sidy Sow with a concussion. Their left tackle, Trent Brown, is trying to bounce back from a down year and played a clean game last week. The best way to call the Patriots offensive line is above average and capable, but it has holes. They aren’t a very efficient run blocking line which works in Cowboys favor.
Win: Cowboys (providing the starters return)


Which team has the better offense?

This poll is closed

  • 89%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (236 votes)
  • 10%
    New England Patriots
    (27 votes)
263 votes total Vote Now

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