This is not a prediction, but rather, an analysis - and an admittedly hopeful one buoyed in part by Lee, Hardy and McClain practicing on Thursday: My Cowboys Four Reasons They Can Beat Patriots ...
Before we get started, I want to make myself VERY clear. I'm not making any predictions in this article. I'm not saying that the Romo-less, Dez-less Cowboys will beat the 3-0 defending Super Bowl champs. The Patriots are on pace for another historical season on offense and no one has been able to slow them down yet this year. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are coming off back-to-back losses to the Falcons and 1-3 Saints. The odds definitely aren't in the Cowboys favor.
It is the NFL and far crazier things have happened.
While the chances of a Cowboys victory on Sunday are slim without Tony Romo under center, it's still entirely possible. In fact, Alex Smith, Ryan Tannehill, Kyle Orton, Geno Smith, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy, Chad Henne, Matt Schaub, Jake Plummer, Chad Pennington, Joey Harrington, Jake Delhomme, Gus Frerotte, A.J. Feeley, Patrick Ramsey, Jay Fielder, Brian Griese and Rich Gannon have all beaten the Tom Brady-led Patriots. As you can see in the above video, though, not even Roger Goodell can generally get the best of Brady. But there is proof that you can beat New England without a star quarterback leading your team. Here are four reasons the Cowboys CAN - but not saying they will - beat the Patriots.
1. Return of the RushMen
The Cowboys had just 3 sacks in the first 3 games of the season. However, they've been without Randy Gregory, Greg Hardy and even missed Jeremy Mincey for a game. It's hard to generate a consistent pass rush when that many of your pass rushers are at home or on the sideline. However, Mincey is back and Greg Hardy - who has 9 sacks in his last 4 games - is finally returning from his 4-game suspension.
On top of that, Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are both coming off a big game vs the Saints. Lawrence arguably had the best game of his career - recording 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hit and 2 QB hurries. Crawford also had a season-high 6 QB hurries vs the Saints. These two Boise State alums combined with Greg Hardy - and eventually Randy Gregory - gives the Cowboys an intimidating pass rush moving forward.
Now, the reason the pass rush is so important this week is because that is the biggest key to beating the Tom Brady and the Patriots - especially when they're on the road.
- Since 2012, the Patriots are 3-5 when Tom Brady is hit 2+ times. They're 1-3 on the road when he's hit 2+ times.
- Since 2013, the Patriots are 3-6 on the road when defenses record 9+ QB hurries vs Tom Brady.
- Since 2013, the Patriots are 1-3 on the road when Tom Brady is sacked 4+ times.
- Since 2009, the Patriots are 5-9 on the road when Tom Brady fumbles - regardless of whether or not he loses the fumble.
Also, for what it's worth, in 3 combined games vs Tom Brady, Jeremy Mincey and Greg Hardy have recorded 2 sacks, 4 QB hits and 3 QB hurries. If the Cowboys can find a way hit Brady a few times on Sunday, the Dallas odds of coming away with a win will increase significantly.
2. The Duo of Lee and McClain
When Sean Lee suffered a concussion vs the Saints, his availability for Sunday's game vs the Patriots looked to be in serious doubt. However, the team is very optimistic that he'll be able to play. With Rolando McClain returning from suspension along with Greg Hardy, it seems that fans will FINALLY get to see Lee and McClain play together. That's going to be a lot of instincts and football IQ on the same field.
McClain is getting there ...
And as of Thursday, so is Lee ...
Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski (with rookie Byron Jones likely assigned to him) and Julian Edelman will get the majority of attention but the Patriots also have a dangerous RB duo in Blount and Lewis. Both are averaging over 4 yards per carry and Lewis has become a very dangerous receiving threat, much like Dunbar was for the Cowboys before his season-ending knee injury.
Luckily, Lee is in the top 10 in tackling in the NFL this year, with 36 stops - including 4 for a loss - and just one missed tackle in 200 snaps. Also, Lee is PFF's 2nd ranked 4-3 OLB. McClain had 9 TFL in 13 games last season. He also had the 6th most run stops among all inside LB's last season and the highest run stop % according to PFF. These two should help slow down the Patriots rushing attack and quick passes to the RB's and receivers - which is a big part of New England's offense.
Also, the last time Sean Lee faced the Patriots, he recorded 12 tackles, a pass breakup and an interception.
The Cowboys could use a similar performance out of Lee this Sunday.
3. Patriots aren't as dominant on the road
Don't get me wrong. The Patriots have been a dominant team - regardless of where they're playing - for the past decade. However, as with most teams, the Patriots aren't as effective on the road as they are in front of their home crowd.
The Patriots have lost 23 regular-season games since 2009 - 19 of which have been road games. Also, in that same span, Tom Brady has 27 turnovers at home compared to 42 turnovers on the road. I already listed some stats that show how the Patriots do when Tom Brady is pressured/sacked/hit on the road, but here are some more stats for you..
- Since 2009, the Patriots have scored 24+ points 41 times at home. In that same span they've scored 24+ points 29 times on the road.
- Since 2009, The Patriots have been held to less than 20 points just 4 times at home. In that same span they've been held to less than 20 points 12 times on the road.
- Since 2009, teams that have played the Patriots in New England have scored 30+ just 5 times. In that same span, when teams play the Patriots on their own turf they've scored 30+ points 13 times.
4. Jason Garrett has never lost 3 straight games
During the Garrett-era, the Cowboys have lost 2 consecutive games 10 times. They've never lost 3 in a row though. Here are their stats in the games following a 10 game losing streak..
Average points per game: 29.4
Average points per game allowed: 17.3
Games Scoring 30+ Points: 6
Games Scoring 24+ Points: 9
Games Scoring Less than 20 Points: 1
Games Allowing 30+ Points: 1
Games Allowing 24+ Points: 1
Games Allowing Less than 20 Points: 7
Turnover Differential: +12
Also, when the Cowboys are playing at home after a 2-game losing streak they average 33.6 points.
One of the main things that Jason Garrett tries to implement in his team is mental toughness in the face of adversity. The Cowboys have adopted Garrett's mentality and play best when faced with a difficult circumstance. This team is resilient. They found out what it takes to be winners last season and they know that they're backs are against the wall. This is when Garrett's team shines.
Once again, I'm not saying that the Cowboys will beat the Patriots. However, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they find a way to win. It would be the most "Cowboys thing'' ever if they beat the 3-0 Patriots the week after losing to the 0-3 Saints.