Patriots

Patriots vs. Cowboys Instant Overreactions: Overrated Cowboys not a true contender

Patriots vs. Cowboys Instant Overreactions: Overrated Cowboys not a true contender

FOXBORO -- Sunday's Week 12 game between the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium will not be shown in any instructional videos on how to execute offensive football.

Both teams found it very difficult to move the ball, score points and kick field goals. Third down was an absolute horror show, too, as these offenses went a combined 5-for-27 in those situations.

The Patriots ultimately emerged with a 13-9 victory to extend their home win streak to 21 games, including the playoffs. New England's elite defense gave another stellar performance in holding the Dallas offense to just three field goals after it scored an average of 33.25 points over the last four games.

Let's take a look at five instant overreactions and assess their merit.

1. Patriots QB Tom Brady is the problem with the offense
Verdict
: Overreaction

Brady's stats weren't pretty Sunday. He completed just 17 of 36 pass attempts (including five drops!) for 190 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a fumble. However, he is not the primary problem that ails this struggling offense. The lack of quality depth at wide receiver is a huge issue. Veteran wideouts Mohamed Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) both didn't play, leaving Brady with Julian Edelman and two rookies, N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, as his only available receivers. Harry was playing in just his second career game, and even though he had a nice touchdown catch, he clearly has a long way to go before becoming a reliable component of the passing attack. New England's offensive line didn't do Brady any favors against Dallas' pass rush, either. The Cowboys sacked Brady twice and hit him six times.

There's no question Brady has to play better for the Patriots to have a good enough offense to win in the playoffs, but it's hard to expect greatness from him when two of his top three wide receivers don't play, and two who were active had a combined 12 games of pro experience.

2. N'Keal Harry will be a legitimate red zone threat
Verdict
: Not an overreaction

Harry's ability to make contested catches in tight coverage helped make him a first-round talent, and that was evident on his first career touchdown reception in the first quarter. The Patriots opened the scoring when Harry made a tremendous back-shoulder catch on the left side of the end zone and managed to get both feet inbounds while being tackled.

Red zone offense has been a huge issue for the Patriots all season. New England entered Week 12 scoring a touchdown on less than half of its league-high 44 trips to the red zone, and one of the reasons for this lack of success has been the absence of a big, reliable target in that area of the field. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was this type of target throughout his nine-year career, and the Patriots have yet to fully replace this facet of his game since he retired in March. 

Harry has the strength/size (6-foot-4 and 225 pounds), hands and athleticism to serve in this role, and if he's successfully able to do it, the Patriots offense could be much-improved come playoff time.

3. Sony Michel is back
Verdict
: Overreaction

Michel ran for 44 yards in the first quarter -- his season-high for the first 15 minutes of the game. He finished with 89 yards on 19 carries (4.7 yards per attempt). 

It's no secret Michel has struggled to regain the impressive form he showed for much of his 2018 campaign, where he set a rookie playoff record for rushing touchdowns. He entered Week 12 with just 515 yards (51.5 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry) through 10 games, in addition to six rushing touchdowns. Michel still doesn't have a 100-yard game in 2019.

His performance versus the Cowboys was no doubt encouraging, but it needs to happen on a more consistent basis for him to again be a reliable part of this offense.

4. The Patriots still have a kicking problem
Verdict
: Overreaction

Rainy conditions in Foxboro didn't exactly make kicking an easy endeavor Sunday afternoon, but Nick Folk was able to give the Patriots some much-needed points on a day their offense was really struggling to pick up first downs. The veteran kicker converted a 44-yard field goal in the first quarter, then missed his next two attempts from 46 and 48 yards. The 46-yard miss should've been a 41-yard attempt but a false start penalty pushed New England back. Folk bounced back from consecutive misses to hit a 42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that gave the Pats a 13-6 lead.

Folk's stats aren't bad by any means. He's now 7-for-9 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points in three games for New England. He hadn't attempted a field goal 40 yards or beyond entering Week 12, but he hit two of them in tough weather conditions Sunday. Folk has been solid for the Patriots, and a definite upgrade over the man he replaced, Mike Nugent.

5. Cowboys are not a legit contender
Verdict
: Not an overreaction

The Cowboys have now played four teams that currently have a winning record and they're 0-4 in those games. Dallas' six wins have come against teams with a combined record of 16-49-1. 

Sunday's game was a huge opportunity for the Cowboys to make a statement to the rest of the league against the defending Super Bowl champs. Instead, Dallas failed to execute offensively, lost the turnover battle. committed costly penalties and its best players mostly underperformed. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw for just 199 yards without a touchdown (plus an interception), and No. 1 wide receiver Amari Cooper was held without a reception against elite cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

It's foolish to take the Cowboys seriously until they stop beating up on the putrid NFC East and AFC East, and start consistently beating quality opponents.

Rob Gronkowski reveals his favorite TD catch from Tom Brady>>>

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Aaron Rodgers describes how 'Belichick effect' has impacted the NFL

Aaron Rodgers describes how 'Belichick effect' has impacted the NFL

The Green Bay Packers are preparing for a battle the San Francisco 49ers on the NFL's championship Sunday. The two will square off in the NFC Championship for the right to advance to the Super Bowl.

While Aaron Rodgers and his teammates are doing what they can to be ready for the game, they still aren't exactly sure what to expect from the 49ers.

And Rodgers credited Bill Belichick's influence for that.

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Rodgers explained in a post-practice interview that not knowing what to expect from opposing defenses is something that has been popularized over the course of the past five years. And he called the defense's ability to change up week to week "the Belichick effect".

"I think that’s the NFL in the last five years, especially, it’s kind of the Belichick effect where teams are more reluctant to really try and scheme up opponents instead of relying on their base defense," Rodgers said to reporters.

"There’s less and less teams like the Lovie Smith Bears defenses over the years that say ‘Hey, screw it, we’re going to play four-man front, play Tampa-2 the entire game and make you go the whole field, and strip the ball and tackle securely and stop the run with a six-man, seven-man front.’

"There’s more teams that are scheming specifically up for teams. I think the tough part is it might be different than you saw on film. The drawback from that is a lot of these teams are used to playing coverages they’re not used to playing, they’re not super-comfortable playing, they don’t have a lot of reps in and that can cause some confusion at times."

Rodgers hit the nail on the head as the NFL's best defenses have become more versatile and game plan-dependent in recent seasons. Having multiple defensive looks is essential to success in the modern NFL and Belichick's ability to adjust week in and week out played a big role in kicking off the trend.

Though the Patriots won't have a chance to out scheme anyone on the defensive side of the ball until next season, they can be thankful that they have a forward-thinking coach at the helm. His ability to adjust on defense as well as Josh McDaniels' ability to change the Patriots offense look to match their best weapons have helped to make the team difficult to figure out.

And that's a big part of the reason that they have been able to make multiple deep postseason runs in recent seasons.

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Packers aiming to match rare playoff feat last accomplished by Patriots in 2001

Packers aiming to match rare playoff feat last accomplished by Patriots in 2001

The Green Bay Packers earned an impressive 13-3 record in the regular season, but they haven't always looked like an elite team.

The NFC North champs ranked 15th in points scored, 18th in yards gained and 18th in yards allowed. These numbers don't exactly jump off the page. The Packers also lacked a signature win, and with a chance to make a statement versus the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12, Green Bay was dominated in a 38-7 loss.

However, if veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads his team to an NFC Championship Game victory on the road against the 49ers on Sunday, the Packers will become the first team since the 2001 New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl after being outgained in the regular season (h/t to NFL Media's Mike Giardi).

The Packers defense gave up 5,642 total yards, while their offense racked up 5,528 total yards, resulting in a difference of minus-114 yards through 16 regular-season games.

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This trend continued in last weekend's NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers escaped with a 28-23 win at Lambeau Field, but the Seahawks outgained them by 31 yards. It also was the Packers' 10th game of the season decided by one score, and Green Bay owns a 9-1 mark in those matchups.

How have the Packers won so many games despite being outgained on a consistent basis? Well, it sure helps to have a quarterback as talented as Rodgers.

The future Hall of Famer sealed the Packers' victory last week with two clutch third-down conversions late in the fourth quarter. It wasn't an all-time performance from Rodgers, but when it's winning time, he usually steps up and makes a huge play. 

Rodgers' playoff experience and ability to come through in the clutch give the Packers an important advantage at the quarterback position entering Sunday's NFC title game. Oddsmakers, however, have still pegged the 49ers as an overwhelming betting favorite.