The Cowboys are in desperate need of a good game this week that ends in a solid victory. They welcome the New England Patriots to AT&T Stadium, including their new running back, Ezekiel Elliott. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Cowboys as 6.5-point favorites.
We spoke with out sister site, Pats Pulpit, to get an idea of what is going on with the Patriots.
Blogging The Boys: Let’s talk about it. How has Ezekiel Elliott looked for the Patriots so far this season, and what do you think his role will be this week?
Pats Pulpit: Elliott had a bit of a rough start after fumbling on New England’s second possession of the season, but he’s been solid since then. His best game as a Patriot came last week against the Jets, where he ripped off some nice gains on a toss and two cutback runs while helping the offense grind out 157 rushing yards. Though he isn’t quite breaking tackles or making people miss as often as he did in Dallas, I’ve appreciated his decisiveness and ability to get a few extra yards after contact.
Bill O’Brien used Elliott and Rhamondre Stevenson together in a “Pony” grouping a lot in Week 1, but we’ve seen that dwindle the past two weeks, and he’s only caught one pass since being targeted heavily on screens in the opener (with mixed results).
This week, I think he’ll be the #2 behind Stevenson on early downs.
BTB: Is Mac Jones the QB of the future, or a placeholder? What’s the good and bad of his game?
PP: Mac Jones has been put in some pretty difficult spots since entering the NFL. During his rookie season, he had to deal with being the successor to Brady (though Cam Newton served a one-year stopgap). His sophomore season was essentially lost because he was surrounded by unqualified coaches, and his offensive line was a mess. This season has been the best of his career, thanks in large part to the addition of Bill O’Brien, despite more line woes and his playmakers not always coming through in big moments. Jones hasn’t been perfect, but he’s making good decisions, handling pressure well, and keeping the offense competitive while working with a razor-thin margin for error. On the other end of the spectrum, he’s 0-10 on deep passes the past two weeks, though, to be fair, the elements last week were pretty rough. And while he flashed some improvisational ability against the Dolphins, it isn’t a real strength of his game.
I think Jones is the future in New England because, outside of the top half of the league, I’m not sure how many quarterbacks could handle the cerebral responsibilities he’s tasked with while still being a consistently accurate short-intermediate passer. I also don’t think we’ve seen how good he can be since he’s never had a true #1 receiver. That said, it would be smart for the organization to keep searching for someone with a higher upside through future drafts, but that’s just good business.
BTB: Now that Tom Brady has been gone for a bit, what is the perception of Bill Belichick as a coach without him?
PP: Belichick has lost some of the good faith he built up through the dynasty era because of the team’s lack of playoff appearances and success since the end of Brady’s tenure. I don’t think most of it is justified, but his handling of the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach spots last season was impossible to defend, and he didn’t have much of a succession plan when 12 left. Ball security and situational execution offensively have also been shoddy for a few years now.
Still, the Patriots defense has been one of the league’s top units every season since 2020, and Belichick is a huge part of that. You don’t see New England get embarrassed often, even when they play teams with far superior talent. You can absolutely critique his decision-making at times through the post-Brady era, but he’s still hands-down one of the best coaches in the league.
BTB: What are the overall strengths and weaknesses of this current Patriots team?
PP: In terms of strengths, their defense is one of, if not the best, in the league. They’ve got a deep, physical front that can stop the run and harass quarterbacks. Their secondary, led by a stacked group of safeties, got even better with the drafting of Christian Gonzalez. The rookie has shown unreal poise against some of the league’s best receivers, and he’s one of the rare young corners who consistently plays to his freakish athleticism. Special teams have also been a strength after a down year last season, with Brenden Schooler proving yet again to be a difference-making presence. I’d also say Mac Jones is a strength because Bill O’Brien’s offense would implode without him.
In terms of weaknesses, the offensive line is gaining momentum with its top four players all in the lineup, but the right tackle spot has been shaky all season, and Cole Strange is still working his way back from a knee injury suffered in training camp. The receiving corps has also been pretty disappointing, with JuJu Smith-Schuster being a minimal contributor, Kendrick Bourne not making the leap many expected, and DeVante Parker not providing the big plays he did over the summer.
BTB: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Cowboys as 6.5-point favorites. Is that a fair line, and how do you think things play out on Sunday?
PP: I think it’s more than fair, considering Dallas is loaded with talent, well-coached, and playing at home. But if their offensive line is missing three starters like last week, this game could be closer than some might expect. Regardless, I think the Patriots defense will keep this game competitive the way they have all season. But the offense needs to prove it can generate big plays with the benefits of a domed environment.
I’m predicting a score of 20-17 in favor of the Cowboys. The Patriots will try to run the ball and control the clock, and the CeeDee Lamb might give Gonzalez his biggest test of the season. But ultimately, I think Dallas is just too good for this version of New England’s squad, especially coming off an upset loss.
Thanks for the knowledge, Pats Pulpit.