Patriots - Cowboys Preview & Prediction

"These are the guys that we've been watching and definitely want to be in a position that they are in," Bradie James said. "These guys make you respect them. I would be a fool to say I didn't have this game circled."

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET

GAMEDATE: 10/14/07

SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass

TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

SERIES: 10th meeting. Cowboys lead series, 7-2. The Cowboys have dominated the Patriots over the years, particularly at Texas Stadium, where New England has never won. The Patriots have won the last two meetings between the teams after dropping the first seven. This has been a low-scoring series over the years. Six out of the nine meetings the winning team has scored under 24 points and the last three games have only totaled 49 points combined. The Cowboys haven't scored a touchdown against the Patriots since 1987.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots expect to have RB Laurence Maroney back to team with Sammy Morris, who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry after back-to-back 100-yard games. That running threat is what will make it difficult for the Cowboys' thin secondary to keep tabs on all of the Patriots' receiving threats. Ss Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin are strong in run support, but they can be beat deep, especially when drawn forward by a strong ground game. ... Cowboys QB Tony Romo must show the confidence he displayed in rebounding from five interceptions against the Bills -- he can't afford to be conservative against the Patriots. If New England has one minor soft spot, it would be in the secondary, so the Cowboys must keep it close so they can keep the Patriots off balance. RB Marion Barber must be a force in the red zone in helping Dallas punch it in to finish off drives.

KEY INJURIES: Patriots: Maroney (groin) is expected to play after missing two games; C Dan Koppen (ankle) remains limited and could be replaced by Russ Hochstein. Cowboys: CB Anthony Henry (ankle sprain) had his boot removed, but is unlikely to play and would be replaced by Jacques Reeves; FB Oliver Hoyte (neck strain) could miss his fourth consecutive game.

FAST FACTS: Patriots QB Tom Brady is the first player with at least three touchdown passes in each of the first five games of a season since Steve Young with the 49ers in 1998. ... The Cowboys seek their first 6-0 start since they were 7-0 in 1983.

PATRIOTS PERSONNEL NEWS: CB Asante Samuel (foot) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Samuel will be needed this week with Terrell Owens on the other side of the ball.

--OLB Adalius Thomas (ankle) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Thomas was injured in the second quarter against Cleveland but retuned in the second half.

--RB Laurence Maroney (groin) had limited participation in practice on Thursday. Maroney has missed the last two games with a groin injury and if he can't go against Dallas, Sammy Morris will get his third straight start.

--C Dan Koppen (ankle) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Koppen didn't play last week against Cleveland and if he can't go on Sunday, Russ Hochstein will make his second straight start.

--QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) had limited participation on practice on Thursday. The Patriots are most likely just being cautious with Brady and giving him some rest.

COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: --LB Bradie James is the Cowboys' leading tackler with 49 stops for an average of 9.8 stops-per-game. James led Dallas in tackles last year with an average of 8.3 stops per game.

--S Roy Williams and S Ken Hamlin are second and third on the team in tackles with 27 and 23 stops, respectively. Hamlin and Williams are also tied for second in interceptions with two picks each.

--LB DeMarcus Ware has returned to the top of the Dallas sack chart with 4.5 sacks and has a streak of three consecutive games with a sack. He is also the team leader in quarterback pressures with 11.

--QB Tony Romo has a career regular-season record of 11-4 as a starter for Dallas with 4,149 passing yards in his first 15 career starts. In the Super Bowl era, only Kurt Warner (4,212) threw for more yards through his first 15 career starts.

--TE Jason Witten is currently leading all NFC tight ends in catches (29) and receiving yardage (407). He is also the Cowboys' team leader in both categories. Among players at all positions, Witten is third in the NFC in scoring receptions with four. Witten is on a pace to catch 92 passes for 1,302 yards. His nine receptions at Buffalo (10/8), tied his career best mark for catches, and his 116 yards on six catches against the Giants marked the sixth-highest receiving yardage total for a Dallas tight end in club history. His 103-yard performance was also the second-highest yardage game of his career.

INSIDE THE PATRIOTS CAMP: This Sunday's Patriots-Cowboys game will mark the fifth occasion in NFL history that two teams with 5-0 records or better will square off.

Football fans may be excited about that fact, but Tom Brady isn't. To him and the Patriots, this is just one of 16 regular season games they'll play this year.

"Not really," the Patriots quarterback said. "It's another regular season game for us, and there have been a lot of big games around here."

One thing Brady is concerned about is the Cowboys' aggressive defense, which is playing better and better every week.

"They're very active. They've got a great front seven. They have playmakers in the secondary; I think they lead the league in turnovers. They do a lot of things really well. They strip the ball. They intercept balls. They rush the passer. They stop the run.

"It's a great defense that attacks the quarterback, attacks the football and they're very good at what they do."

On the offensive side the ball, head coach Bill Belichick is concerned about all the weapons the Cowboys have at their disposal.

"(Tony) Romo is a very athletic quarterback," Belichick said. "The play that he made against St. Louis where they snapped the ball over his head and he's running around 35 yards behind the line of scrimmage and still scrambles and picks up a first down kind of epitomizes his playmaking ability.

"Both backs are outstanding. (Marion) Barber is having a terrific year. He's really a hard guy to tackle. Both of them are good in the passing game. Of course they have a lot of big play receivers. You can't underestimate guys like (Patrick) Crayton and (Sam) Hurd just because they have T.O. (Terrell Owens) and Whitten. (Anthony) Fasano. They all get involved. They're good in the kicking game. We saw that Monday night."

We also saw Romo throw five interceptions in a near-loss to the Bills in Buffalo. Brady, who has had similar misfortune on rare occasions on the road, knows how much of an impact the home team's fans can have on opposing quarterbacks.

"We're playing on the road so that's always a factor with the crowd noise," he said."

This will be Brady's first -- and likely last -- appearance at Texas Stadium (the Cowboys are building a new home in nearby Arlington). The last time he played the Cowboys was four years ago here in Foxboro, a 12-0 Patriots victory on the strength of four field goals.

"I don't remember that so well," Brady said. "That was the Tuna Bowl with (Coach Bill) Parcells. That's all I remember. I don't think we're building this (Sunday's game) to anything more than it really is, which is another game on our schedule. It's another game that we're hoping to play our best and make improvements." Expect a lot more fireworks this Sunday when the league's top two offenses get together. As Owens said, "Getcha popcorn ready."

INSIDE THE COWBOYS CAMP: Never mind the six turnovers Tony Romo committed against the Bills last Monday. The Cowboys consider that an aberration. One thing they know that they can count on this season is the offense and its ability to put points on the board.

Therefore, the key for the Cowboys on Sunday against the Patriots will be how well the defense plays. The Cowboys defense has come a long way since its embarrassing performance in the season-opening victory against the Giants, when it gave up 35 points.

Not only are the Cowboy more comfortable in the scheme coach Wade Phillips has installed, but they have gotten healthy with linebacker Greg Ellis returning after missing the first three games because of the torn left Achilles he suffered last November.

They have given up just three points the past two games on defense.

Still, the Cowboys recognize the challenge they are facing Sunday against the Patriots. Quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Randy Moss lead an offense that is considered the most potent in the entire NFL.

"We just have to be consistent and make the plays that count," linebacker Bradie James said.

"If you don't, Tom Brady and those guys will exploit you."

According to James, it's an opportunity for the Cowboys' defense to step out of the shadow of the Cowboys' offense and prove how good it really is.

It's also an opportunity for the Cowboys to show they are legitimate Super Bowl title contenders.

"These are the guys that we've been watching and definitely want to be in a position that they are in," James said. "These guys make you respect them. I would be a fool to say I didn't have this game circled. It's a game that we can let us see what we can be. We're full of confidence right now. We're definitely playing well defensively. I will be hard-pressed to say they won't score. What we have to do is play consistent football -- be where we are supposed to be and make plays."

PREDICTION: Patriots 30-27


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