It is crazy to see just how much can change in a week. The Cowboys headed into Week 3 playing like the best team in the NFL. Fast forward through an embarrassing loss and a week of national media later - nobody is saying that now. A team that through the first two weeks of the season looked so primed to take the next step and be a complete Cowboys team, capable of beating the inferior teams when they're supposed to, just simply did not answer the bell.
The offensive line was banged up and it showed, the red zone woes for the offense proved to be a very real thing, and the run defense the Cowboys spent time and resources to fix looked to be the same as it always has been. What a difference a week makes. Now with the Cardinals game in the rearview and maybe a renewed sense of focus, the Cowboys invite an always well-coached New England Patriots team into AT&T Stadium.
Despite being more talented at almost every position on the roster, the Cowboys showed us last week that this team cannot have a “we are better” mentality or they will come out flat and play down to their opponent. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will have his team ready to play, and after last week’s abysmal run-stopping performance, be prepared to see a heavy dose of the rushing attack again this week.
The Cowboys just released linebacker Devin Harper on Thursday, leaving only two true linebackers on the current roster. We know that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn likes to bring his safeties down to play in the front seven and that's exactly where fresh off of an injury Donovan Wilson is going to make his biggest impact on Sunday.
Let’s take a closer look at Donovan Wilson and his Week 4 impact in our “Player Spotlight.”
Week 4 player spotlight
Wilson is the enforcer of this Cowboys secondary, known for his big hits over the middle and his ability to come downhill and stop the run. While it was his first action of the season and rust is understandable for a man who got injured in the first few days of training camp, Wilson did not have his best game on Sunday against the Cardinals and the Cowboys will need vintage Dono this week if they're going to be successful.
S Donovan Wilson of the #Cowboys got his first taste of action this week. He lead the team in coverage grade (81.2) via @PFF— Ben Larimore (@larimore_ben) September 25, 2023
His run defense grade (24.2) is completely out of character for him. His ability to support the run is his calling card.
Consider his coverage grade a…
As you can see above, Wilson’s performance feels like a complete 180 from what we are accustomed to seeing from him. With the lack of depth in the linebacker room and the abundance of safety talent the Cowboys have on the roster, Wilson getting back to his ways of being a solid run player will help out immensely more than what his pass defense can provide. Nobody is downplaying the pass defense he had in his first week back, that is a hugely important factor if it continues as the season progresses, but where Wilson is needed most is in sniffing out the rushing attack.
The Patriots are a lot of things, stupid is not one of them. They smell blood in the water and recognize they are more aptly built to attack via the ground rather than the air, and if the Cowboys rush defense is a weakness, expect for the Patriots to try and attack it, especially with highly motivated old friend Ezekiel Elliott. Wilson along with Markquese Bell, and other creative ways brought by Quinn, are going to need to make stopping the run the main focus on Sunday, and really going forward.
This defense is built on its skill and versatility, and while it sounds good in principle, it needs to work when put into practice as well. The Cowboys are a better team for having Wilson back, we just need to see what he does best shine through on Sunday if they're going to be successful.