Tom Curran's Patriots-Cowboys Preview/Review: Defense does it again
PREVIEW: The Cowboys have won three of their last four after a three-game losing streak that included a humiliating defeat by the Jets (!!!!!?????). They've gotten fat on bad teams (15 wins among the six teams they’ve beaten). But the 9-1 Patriots have scored just four offensive touchdowns in their past three games and they face the third straight challenging opponent after a relative walk in the park for the first two months of the season.
REVIEW: I don’t care if it was 66 degrees under crystal clear and windless skies; the Dallas Cowboys didn’t have the belly to come into Foxboro and beat the Patriots. Start there. As was mentioned above, the Cowboys got fat on bad teams this year and — depleted as they are with an offense that was objectively not very good at all (their first two scoring drives went a total of 45 feet; all told their three scoring drives were 19 plays and 56 yards) — the Patriots are far from a bad team at 10-1. I’m back on the historic defense bandwagon after this one and I’ll add an aura chaser to it because the wind and the rain and the specter of the Patriots in Foxboro had the Cowboys and Jason Garrett embracing the 13-9 loss as some kind of moral victory. To the review!
When the Patriots Ran
PREVIEW: Maybe Isaiah Wynn changes everything and the Patriots have a productive game on the ground. But I think this will be a bloodbath. The speed of the Dallas linebackers is as good as any team in the league and that’s even without second-year phenom Leighton Vander Esch. The slow-developing Patriots attack is a wounded caribou to the Cowboys hungry grizzly. There’s really nothing else to say. Advantage Cowboys
REVIEW: Bloodbath, shmudbath. It started from the first drive when Sony Michel ripped off 27 yards on the ground on his first four carries. The Patriots weren’t overpowering but they were effective and Michel did his best job this season of getting to the second level when it was available and taking the modest gains he could when there was company at the line of scrimmage waiting for him. He finished with 85 yards on 20 carries. As a team, the Patriots were otherwise meager — seven carries, 16 yards with 11 of those coming on a Brandon Bolden end-around. But with the weather what it was and the injuries at wideout what they were, the Patriots needed to get something from the ground attack and they got plenty. Advantage: Patriots
When the Patriots Passed
PREVIEW: The Cowboys have been pretty solid against a mixed bag of quarterbacks this year. They’ve only allowed 11 touchdown passes and have rolled up 26 sacks. The Patriots have struggled to get anything going in the passing game outside the numbers and down the field with success. The best chance the Pats will have to make yards is in the screen game where they can use Dallas’ speed against them. Advantage: Cowboys
REVIEW: No Sanu. No Dorsett. Leaning heavy on Edelman with his bad shoulder. The Patriots were not going to dominate. They just needed to hit a few at key junctures. They did. N’Keal Harry had one catch on four targets and it was a back-shoulder touchdown. Meyers caught just four of the nine balls he was sent but he got them chunks including a 32-yarder on a deep out and a terrific catch against tight coverage to move the chains. Edelman — who didn’t seem able to use his left arm very much — wound up with eight catches for 93 yards. Nobody else was useful and Tom Brady was under 50 percent completions (17 for 37 for 190) but he hit throws he had to. Still, the Cowboys only allowed one touchdown and that was because their special teams allowed a punt block that put the Patriots at their 12-yard line. Advantage: Cowboys
When the Cowboys Ran
PREVIEW: Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton are all playing Pro Bowl-level defensive line. We haven’t discussed it much but the job being done by defensive line coach Bret Bielema is terrific this year. It will be interesting to see if Ezekiel Elliott can make any headway. Prescott is a threat to run three of four times per game and he’s a shrewd scrambler so that’s worth keeping an eye on but the Patriots should be able to handle Elliott overall, though I’m sure he’ll get some. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: The Cowboys ran it effectively. Elliott finished with 86 yards on 21 carries and they ran for 109 as a team. Actually, the Cowboys probably should have run the ball more. They consistently got chunks on first down to put them in second-and-favorable and then tried to dress things up when this was a meat-and-potatoes game. Advantage: Cowboys
When the Cowboys Passed
PREVIEW: Dak Prescott is having an outstanding season. He’s accurate (67.7 completion percentage). He’s been sacked just 12 times. His YPA is a gaudy 8.82. He’s got 21 touchdowns and nine picks. By contrast, Tom Brady’s at 63.7, 6.85 YPA with 14 TDs, five picks and 16 sacks. The entire key to this game will be how often the Patriots front can speed up Prescott. Given time, he’s going to find guys. Steph Gilmore will take care of Cooper. It’s the Gallup, Elliott, Cobb and Witten supporting cast that causes concern. Advantage: Cowboys
REVIEW: Stephon Gilmore absolutely erased Amari Cooper (two targets, no catches). Prescott was 19 for 33 for 212 but 59 of those came on a catch-and-run by Randall Cobb. I mean, it counts, but the numbers were even more humble than the meager 212 would indicate. And even on that play, Devin McCourty almost punched the ball loose. To appreciate the work of the Patriots secondary and pass rush, look at Dallas’ third-down performance. They went 2 for 13 and only picked up eight first downs all day on passes. They had 43 passing first downs the past two weeks. They were 39 for 71 on third down the past four games. Prescott looked befuddled and the fact he didn’t know enough to put a glove on his throwing hand until late in the first quarter was just another symptom of unpreparedness. Advantage: Patriots
PREVIEW: Cowboys kicker Brett Maher’s got a big leg. He made a 63-yarder earlier this season. The Patriots have no established punt returner currently, having released Gunner Olszewski. Punter Jake Bailey and gunners Justin Bethel and Matt Slater have been on fire lately and making a huge difference. The Patriots kick coverage has also improved. Nick Folk has been outstanding since the team signed him. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: Jake Bailey had some rough punts. And Nick Folk missed two field goals. But the Patriots also had a blocked punt, got a key downed punt from Bailey near the end and pooched kickoffs at Dallas that the Cowboys treated like cavemen encountering fire for the first time. The weather was a factor, no doubt, but the Patriots used it to their advantage when they could. One of the game’s key exchanges came at the end of the third when Dallas took a penalty because they were confused before a punt. When they did punt, the Patriots went without a returner and it was downed at the Patriots 18. But there was another penalty on Dallas. With a fatigued Cowboys coverage team lining up again, the Patriots this time sent Rex Burkhead out to field the punt. He made a fair catch at the Patriots 38. Twenty-yard gain. And the Patriots used that decent field position to drive for a field goal. Advantage: Patriots
PREVIEW: The officiating crew led by Scott Novak gets this game. Novak is a first-year ref and his crew has been refreshingly light with the damn flags. Only once this season has a team had double-digit penalties in a Novak game. In the past six games the totals have been 11, 11, 7, 12, 6, 11. This crew hasn’t yet worked a Patriots game.
REVIEW: The Cowboys got hosed on two tripping penalties. The first turned a second-and-13 into a second-and-23 and the Patriots blocked a punt two plays later. The second came after Dallas picked up a first down on third-and-1 just after the two-minute warning when they were down 13-9. Replay showed nobody got tripped. Two incompletions on third and fourth-and-11 and the game was salted away. Dallas had seven penalties for 50 yards; the Patriots had six for 56.
Prediction & Line
PREVIEW: The Patriots are favored by 6.5 and the total is 44.5. The Patriots are 7-3 against the spread and seven of their 10 games have gone under the total. Seven of Dallas’ 10 games have gone over. They are 6-4 against the spread.
Cowboys 23, Patriots 16
REVIEW: The Patriots failed to cover and went under the total yet again, the eighth time in 11 games. If you followed me, you hit both sides!
Patriots 13, Cowboys 9