1. Fans were finally able to see Sean Lee and Rolando McClain on the same field - something Cowboys Nation has dreamed about since the beginning of the 2014 season. This game was a nice sample of what these two are capable of. Sean Lee had a solid game, recording another pass breakup along with 5 tackles. McClain had the bigger game though, recording 8 tackles, 1 sack and 2 tackles for a loss vs Patriots. This is going to be an incredibly dangerous LB duo moving forward, especially with a strong defensive line in front of them.
Speaking of the defensive line...
2. While it was great to see McClain back on the field, Greg Hardy was the real star on defense in his Cowboys regular-season debut. Hardy recorded 2 sacks, a forced fumble and 3 QB hits. He has 11 sacks in his last 5 games. Hardy gives the Cowboys the dominant edge rusher that the Cowboys have desperately needed. Meanwhile, the Cowboys DT's had a solid game as well. Tyrone and Jack Crawford each had a sack. Also, Mincey, who lost his starting spot to Hardy, matched his season total of 3 QB hurries vs the Patriots. When Gregory returns hopefully after the bye, this defensive line has a chance to be scary good.
Lee. McClain. Hardy. That's a core than ranks with anybody's.
3. It was, once again, a bad day for JJ Wilcox and Barry Church. The two startig safeties have combined for 12 missed tackles in the last three games compared to 2 combined in the first two. That's unacceptable.
However, while Church and Wilcox were disappointing, another guy who plays some safety had a really nice game. Byron Jones was able to limit Gronkowski - which is no easy task. Gronk had 4 touchdowns coming into the game and had 90+ receiving yards in each of the Patriots first 3 games. Jones held Gronk to less than 70 yards and didn't give up a touchdown. Also, other than the Patriots game, Jones hasn't given up more than 35 yards in a game all season.
"He did a really nice job," Garrett said of Byron. "Gronkowksi is a really good player. Byron right from the start stepped up and challenged him. ...He hasn't always won, but he is never shy about sticking his nose in there and challenging the guys he is playing against. We saw that yesterday."
The rookie DB is the real deal.
4. The most impressive CB on the team through the first 4 weeks was easily Morris Claiborne. That wasn't the case on Sunday. Claiborne gave up 4 catches on 4 targets for 120 yards. He also allowed his first touchdown of the season. Mo' wasn't nearly as aggressive or physical as he's been in the other games this year. It'll be interesting to see how he bounces back after his first poor performance of the season considering the fact that his confidence has been an issue in the past. Corey White, on the other hand, was extremely impressive. White had 2 pass breakups, including a near pick-six, as well as a QB hurry. White allowed 3 completions for just 13 yards. His performance on Sunday could potentially earn him some more playing time moving forward.
One addition to these thoughts, though: Consider what Mo was asked to do. He shadowed Edelman, something out of character for a Marinelli D. It is a compliment to Mo and it can work in the future. It wasn't great here.
5. Overall, the defense was excellent in the first half and put this team in position to succeed. After all, they held one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL to just 13 points in the first half. However, the offense kept going 3-and-out and didn't give the defense much of a break. By the time the 2nd half rolled around, the defense was gassed. You can only hold the Patriots for so long if your offense isn't able to score any points. This performance of the defense should give fans plenty of optimism moving forward.
6. Cole Beasley is the only wide receiver on this team who is consistently getting open on offense and actually catching the ball when he does get open. In the last 3 games, the other WR's have been 8 passes on 23 targets (34%) for 156 yards. Beasley has 4 catches on 15 targets (93%) for 151 yards in that span. These WR's need to do a better job of getting open and beating press coverage. Luckily, Dez could potentially return after the bye week which should help matters.
7. I think Christine Michael fans are going to be happy moving forward. Michael had just one carry for 6 yards vs the Patriots but he runs with urgency and burst. I have a feeling that he'll see a significant increase in opportunities after the bye. Joseph Randle will likely remain the starter. He averaged 4 yards per carry against a Patriots defense that was stacking the box all day and wasn't scared of the passing game whatsoever. However, I can easily see Michael stealing away some of Darren McFadden's snaps. McFadden continues to show why he's a bad fit in a zone-blocking scheme. He is a straight-line runner with no agility. If he has to change directions or break a tackle, he's in big trouble. A gust of wind could knock DMC down.
Some McFadden supporters will argue that he's the best run-blocking RB on the team, which is why he continues to get opportunities. I wouldn't be so sure. McFadden has given up a sack and a QB hurry on 12 pass block snaps - an average of 1 QB pressure every 6 attempts. Randle has given up a QB hit on 15 pass-block snaps - an average of 1 QB pressure every 15 attempts. McFadden supporters are quickly running out of ammo while Michael fans are stocking up.
8. After yet another game in which the Cowboys were unable to sustain any offense, Brandon Weeden very well might lose his starting job to Matt Cassel. If a QB change is indeed coming, this is the perfect time to do it. With the bye week coming up, the Cowboys now have 2 weeks to prepare Cassel for the Giants. Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett have already suggested that the change could happen and I'd actually be surprised if it doesn't. Whether or not Cassel will be better than Weeden has yet to be seen, but I think this team needs a change to keep hope alive in the locker room. I just don't see the team getting pumped up much longer with Weeden at QB. They know what they're getting with him at QB and it isn't pretty. At least they know that Cassel has had some success in the NFL and maybe he'll be able to repeat that success here.
Brandon gave Fish a really interesting quote after the game ...
"I understand how it really is," Weeden said. "The outside world, maybe if you don't understand the game of football, everybody's going to point fingers. ... That's the way it is. If you really understand the game of football and how it works ... Some people get it, some people don't."