The Dallas Cowboys will play the New England Patriots for the third time in five years. It’s the most games the Cowboys have played against an AFC team during that span thanks to drawing them on the schedule in 2021 as their first-ever bonus 17th game. The Cowboys emerged victorious in that game but had lost six in a row to New England prior to that. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a new winning streak against Bill Belichick’s bunch, but to do that, it’s going to take a strong game from this Cowboys team. Here are five things to watch when the Cowboys host the Pats at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
1. Homecoming for Zeke
For seven seasons Ezekiel Elliott was a fixture in the backfield for the Cowboys, but the team went a different direction and released him this past offseason. Zeke now runs the ball for the Patriots. The Cowboys have Tony Pollard now and most don’t feel any regrets for moving on as Elliott hasn’t looked as good as he did during his younger days. In fact, Elliott only rushed for 80 yards in three of his final 27 games in Dallas.
But guess what he rushed for last week? Yep, 80 yards. Elliott looked good against a tough Jets defense averaging five yards per carry. And the Cowboys are coming off a game where they allowed 7.4 yards per rushing attempt. The stage is set for Zeke to return to AT&T and attack a Cowboys run defense that is suddenly vulnerable. Elliott may have a good play or two, and we will see his patented feed-me gesture, but the Cowboys' defense should hold him in check.
2. A slow burn
Kendrick Bourne is the only Patriots player who has at least 20 targets this season. And the longest play from New England’s wide receiver trio of Bourne, DeVante Parker, and JuJu Smith-Schuster is 19 yards (Bourne). That’s odd considering Mac Jones has the third most passing attempts so far this year. The Patriots love spreading the ball around as seven different players have double-digit targets.
Look for New England to get their tight ends involved as the combination of Hunter Henry and Pharaoh Brown have as many receiving touchdowns as the entire Cowboys offense this season. They also have Mike Gesicki who has more receiving yards than all of the Cowboys' tight ends combined.
Last week, the Cowboys’ defense was bit by the big play. This week they could fall victim to a slow methodical grind that is the Patriots offense. Staying disciplined and wrapping up will be key to getting off the field.
3. Dak should have opportunities
We all know that Trevon Diggs was lost for the season, but the Patriots are dealing with their own injuries in the secondary. Marcus Jones is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and Jonathan Jones was limited in practice with an ankle injury. Rookie Christian Gonzalez is off to a great start and should be tasked with stopping the Cowboys' most formidable receiving weapon in CeeDee Lamb, but how will the Cowboys attack the other guys?
This would be a great time for former Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks to have a breakout game as he has been quiet thus far. And Michael Gallup is coming off a good game last week, can he keep it up and remain a part of the offense? The Patriots' defense is top 10 in points allowed and is seventh-best in yards per passing attempt allowed. It won’t be easy, but it would be nice to see a good game from Dak Prescott as there will be opportunities to make plays against a nicked-up New England secondary.
4. A defensive battle
The Patriots' defense is good. They are top ten in points allowed and top five in yards given up, which is rather impressive considering they have faced two strong offenses this year, including the league’s top-scoring team, the Miami Dolphins. They have Matt Judon and Josh Unche on the edge. Both are coming off double-digit sack seasons and are constant disruptors on the edge. The Pats defense is filled with several dynamic players who know how to create problems.
The Cowboys defense is also good. While last week didn’t serve as evidence of that, we know what this group is capable of. Expect Dan Quinn’s squad to prove to everyone that they resemble what we saw during the first couple weeks of the season rather than last Sunday.
With two strong defenses, scoring might be hard to come by in this one. And it will make every trip into the red zone even more crucial. Hopefully, the Cowboys can capitalize when it counts because squandered opportunities could cause them to fall just a bit short.
5. A wild finish
The last time these teams met, we were treated to a thrilling overtime game finished off by a CeeDee Lamb walkoff touchdown. Ten years prior, the Patriots won a thriller when Tom Brady led a game-winning drive by hitting Aaron Hernandez in the endzone with just 22 seconds left.
If this is a low-scoring affair, expect this one to end in dramatic fashion as well. Both teams have a rookie kicker, but don’t be surprised if one of them has an opportunity to be a hero in this one.