Patriots Gameplan: Keys to Victory and Marquee Matchups in Sunday’s Showdown vs. the Cowboys in Dallas - Evan Lazar, Patriots.com
The Patriots may look to the Arizona film for a blueprint to beat the Cowboys.
Getting into the Patriots gameplan, the Cardinals gave the Pats a blueprint in their big win last week. Arizona’s formula was limiting the Cowboys to only eight offensive drives with a dominant run game and forcing Dallas into long drives on offense to score. Defensively, the Cardinals had a game plan similar to New England’s against the Jets last Sunday in the Meadowlands.
Arizona played 32 snaps in a base 3-4 defense against Dallas’s under-center formations. By playing heavy personnel, the Cardinals kept the Cowboys from completely gashing them on the ground as they built a lead. Arizona then played zone coverage, mostly split-safety zone, to have a five-man underneath zone distribution to take short passes, while the deep safeties and middle-hole defender took away play-action shots. The Cowboys successfully ran the ball even down multiple offensive linemen, but Arizona held them to 5.5 yards per pass, made several key red zone stops in the second half, and Dallas’s scoring drives were 10, 13, 13, and 12 plays.
The Pats used a similar strategy, albeit against a much lesser quarterback, in their win over the Jets. New England played 21 snaps in base defense and 16 pass plays in the split-safety zone, limiting New York’s rushing attack to 1.7 yards per rush in a 15-10 win.
Although it’s against tougher competition, the plan shouldn’t change much this week. The opponent’s head coach and offensive play-caller has publicly proclaimed that Dallas wants to be a run-heavy operation, and they aren’t running the ball from spread formations with Dak involved on designed quarterback runs as often. Unless the Cowboys completely change their approach, this is smash-mouth football with a Pats team that’s more than willing to play that brand of defense, and Dallas has several injuries along its offensive line that are worth monitoring.
Mac Jones wants to hit the deep ball to get the Patriots offense in rhythm.
“I love chunk plays. My whole career, I’ve kind of thrived off those — play-action and normal chunk plays. Just trying to keep doing them — you have to keep the hook in the water, have the bait out there and continue to fish,” he said.
The 24-year-old Jones knows plenty about the value of explosive passing plays going back to his college days at Alabama, but those have eluded him early in the 2023 season.
“We definitely work hard on that,” offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “I think there’s some things that we’re doing pretty well, and we have to do a lot of things better offensively — including our ability to get the ball down the field, chunk plays.
“There are a lot of different factors that go into that. How the game is being played. How we want to play the game as a team. What we’re trying to do to win the football game — a lot of it based on how our defense is playing, how their defense is [playing]. We’ll continue to do what’s best for us in order to win the football game, but we definitely need to improve getting the ball down the field, chunk plays.”
Six reasons to be optimistic about the Patriots’ chances against the Cowboys - Ben Volin, The Boston Globe
New England looks to exploit areas of concern for the Cowboys, despite the roster advantage for Dallas.
On paper, Sunday’s game at AT&T Stadium is a mismatch. The 2-1 Cowboys rank fifth in the NFL in scoring (29 points per game), while the 1-2 Patriots rank 26th (17). The Cowboys finished 12-5 each of the last two years and brought back a star-studded roster with eight Pro Bowlers, including pass rusher Micah Parsons, perhaps the best defensive player in the NFL. The Patriots have finished under .500 in two of the last three seasons and had just one Pro Bowler last year, Matthew Judon.
“They’ve got a lot of firepower,” Bill Belichick said. “A lot of experience on this team. They go out there and they do a lot of things well. You can see why they have the consistency that they’ve had.”
But don’t mark this one in the loss column just yet. The Cowboys may have secured blowout wins over the Giants and Jets to begin the season, but several flaws were exposed in last week’s 28-16 loss at Arizona.
Coach Mike McCarthy identified three of them:
“We’ve got three blinking lights as a football team — team penalties, red zone offense, and run defense. So they’ve been highlighted, they’ve been coached, but we are on to the plan to beat New England.”
Friday’s injury report for New England @ Dallas.
#Cowboys injury report (Friday) vs. Patriots:— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) September 29, 2023
Tyron Smith ruled OUT
Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin both questionable (but have made progress)
Peyton Hendershot is questionable with an ankle injury.
Chuma Edoga fully cleared to go pic.twitter.com/XIZ0uTJIVo