New England had an early bye, so they should be ready to go today as they travel to Texas to battle the Dallas Cowboys, a team that had Super Bowl aspirations to start the season but have seen their top two offensive weapons go down with injuries. The Dallas defense will have to play perfect to beat the Patriots, and the offense will need a big effort out of everyone to compete.
When the Patriots Run: New England is obviously a team that prefers to throw, but they also want to maintain balance in their offense, and this might be one of those weeks where the Patriots run wild. Dallas is ranked 11th versus the run, allowing 367 yards on 98 carries, an average of 3.7 yards per run. If they can establish the run, that will open up play action, giving the offense another element to deal with. Expect New England to try and establish Blount today, and don't be surprised if they run for over 125 yards as a team. Dion Lewis will also make his own contributions in the running game, mostly on third down though.
When the Patriots Pass: The Cowboys have struggled against the pass, ranked 18th in the NFL and allowing 256 passing yards per game. Now they have to deal with the most prolific passing game in the NFL, so this could get ugly quick if the Cowboys can't make a few plays. Defensive end and overall horrible human being Greg Hardy returns, which will beef up the pass rush, but I get the feeling the Patriots have a blocking scheme cooked up for him. Nobody has been able to stop the New England passing since the Chiefs in Week Four of 2014, and that trend will continue today.
When the Cowboys Run: Most would assume that this is an automatic check mark for the Cowboys, but there is a lot that goes into establishing the run, and one major factor is keeping the game close. The Patriots do allow 4.9 yards per carry, but teams have only run it 72 times against them because they end up playing catch-up the entire game. If the Cowboys can get a few stops and keep it close, the running game could be the factor that does in the Patriots, but I don't see it happening. The loss of Lance Dunbar will be a factor too; he was dangerous in the passing game and he's the type of back that give the Patriots the most problems.
When the Cowboys Pass: Once again, perception isn't reality when it comes to the Patriots pass defense. Most would assume that they are average, but they're actually the ranked 5th in the NFL versus the pass, and although they have given up some big plays, they make some of their own too, piling up 13 sacks and five interceptions in three games. With the Cowboys missing their top two players in the passing game, this could be a day that the Patriots pass rush racks up at least five sacks, which leads to an itchy trigger finger and turnovers. Weeden will make a couple plays, but the advantage is once again to New England, mainly due to the absenses of Romo and Bryant.
Special Teams: The advantage typically goes to the Patriots, but today appears to be a wash. Dallas does a good job in the coverage game, and they also feature a great kicker in Dan Bailey. The Cowboys have been very good in the return game, an area where the Patriots simply haven't had enough opportunities to show how good they are. I'll give a slight advantage to Dallas due to the return game, but that is the only thing that separates the two teams.
Coaching Matchup: Bill Belichick vs. Jason Garrett; hands down, Belichick has the advantage. Yes, Garrett has improved, but he doesn't have the guts BB has in big situations and that is what is needed to beat a team like the Patriots. Will Garrett trust Weeden and go for it on a fourth and one from the 50, something that is needed to keep Brady off the field? I saw no, and Belichick doesn't have these same fears, a talent that sets him apart from 95% of NFL coaches.
Prediction: Patriots 41, Cowboys 21
Dallas has the injury bug, and that is a huge reason why this game won't be close. Again, if Romo and Bryant were playing, this game would be a tossup, but losing your top two weapons is just too much to overcome when you're facing the best offense in the league.
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