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4 Cowboys players to watch against the Patriots

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Patriots

The Patriots might have to use the “Tom Brady” model to slow Dak Prescott down, while Mac Jones has to be especially careful with one of his former teammates.

Dak Prescott. (AP Photo / Michael Ainsworth)

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The last time the Patriots played against the Dallas Cowboys (2019), things were quite different at Foxborough.

Tom Brady and Stephon Gilmore were still there. The team had just earned their sixth Super Bowl victory rather than a year in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. They still had an offense in the top 10 and their defense was the best in the league. New England had actually won a few home games so far.

None of these things are true now. But the Patriots are hoping the end result for this season will be the same in 2021: a relentless home win over a good football team.

A 4-1 win over the Dallas Cowboys could do more than just reduce New England’s record to .500. It might reassure the Patriots and their fans that this team may have some real playoff aspirations.

The Cowboys, after all, have stellar talent on both sides of the ball, and proving they can keep these high-caliber players under control will show the Patriots can hang on to anyone when they’re playing to their fullest. potential.

4 Cowboys players to watch against the Patriots
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Blake Jarwin in the first half of a game against the Carolina Panthers in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins) – The Associated Press

Dak prescott

Prescott is no worse than a top-five quarterback in football right now, which is a wonder considering the horrific leg injury he had to recover from last season.

The Cowboys signalman is second in the passers standings (116.9) behind only Russell Wilson and third in the passers qualified for completion percentage (73.9), three spots ahead of Mac Jones (71.1).

While he hasn’t been as prolific in yardage since Week 1 (403 passing yards against Tom Brady’s Buccaneers), his efficiency and points production has been no less impressive.

Aside from a substandard game against the Chargers in Week 2, Prescott has thrown three or more touchdowns in every game this year and has 13 touchdown passes against just three interceptions.

He’s that elite quarterback brand who takes care of football but also isn’t afraid to trust his arm – he throws balls through narrow windows at a top 10 rate among quarterbacks – NFL back (according to NextGen Stats) but only has five turnovers. worthy shots so far this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

“We have to keep them off the board, try to get saves, try to get Dak (Prescott) to read some defenses and keep the ball a little longer so we can get to it,” said the linebacker. of the Patriots Matthew Judon. Wednesday. “The 11 guys need to be on point this week.”

New England managed to force Tom Brady to hold football against Tampa Bay by hiding covers and kept the Bucs’ explosive passing game largely under control by keeping the Hall of Fame quarterback guessing.

Look for the Patriots to do something similar with Prescott.

4 Cowboys players to watch against the Patriots
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (7) walks past New York Giants wide receiver CJ Board (18) after Digg’s interception in the second half of an NFL football game at Arlington, Texas, Sunday, October 10, 2021 (Photo by Matt Strasen / AP Images for Panini)

Trevon Diggs

For a quarterback often praised for that quick decision-making and his precision, Jones has put the ball in jeopardy more often than you would like (although that’s to be expected given his inexperience).

Jones is tied with Sam Darnold and Jared Goff for sixth place in the NFL with eight turnover-worthy shots according to PFF. Five of those passes ended up in the hands of opponents.

He will have to be wary of his former Alabama teammate Trevon Diggs or that number could rise on Sunday.

The explosive second-year cornerback stands out in a big way for Dallas, sweeping the NFL’s first interception lead with six and smashing four more passes along the way.

He also allowed a completion percentage of just 48.7 and a passer rating of 38.9 when targeted and has yet to give up a receiving touchdown in 2021 despite being targeted more times ( 39) than all the cornerbacks in the league, his teammate Anthony Brun (44).

Although Jones has said he “can’t be afraid” of his former Crimson Tide teammate, he knows he can’t afford to be careless with him.

“You just have to know where he is because you have to respect him,” Jones said. “Respect his game, respect his knowledge and respect everyone on their defense and their coaching staff because they are doing a good job in preparation; it appears on the tape.

The Cowboys will trust Diggs and Brown to play a lot on single cover – both are in the top five among cornerbacks in men’s cover shots so far this year.

Whatever Jones or the Patriots say, going after Brown with any matching receiver on that side will be a safer bet than testing Diggs on Sunday.

4 Cowboys players to watch against the Patriots
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) works against New York Giants goalie Wes Martin (63) during the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, October 10, 2021 . (AP Photo / Roger Steinman)

Micah Parsons

There is perhaps no more exciting rookie defensive player than Parsons.

The 4.3 speed of the physical linebacker wasn’t just a fluke from Combine; he appears on the pitch with side-to-side line reach and terrifying closing speed as a pass.

For perspective, Parsons, an inside linebacker, leads the Cowboys in pressure with 21 and is tied for first on the team in sacks with three.

Parsons still has some coverage work to do – he gives a 97.6 passer rating when targeted this year – and he’s also missing quite a bit of tackles. But there’s no denying that he’s a weapon, whether used as a blitzer or chasing quarterbacks that try to escape from the pocket.

The Cowboys don’t blitz a ton and sometimes struggle to produce pressure with four linemen with star DeMarcus Lawrence out of the roster for much of the season. Parsons will therefore likely continue to play an important role in Dallas’ pass race against the Patriots.

Additionally, Parsons has lined up the Cowboys’ entire defensive front, including several games where he has played more on the outside than on the inside.

Given the Patriots injury and COVID issues on the offensive line, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dallas try to create shifts with the young electric linebacker on a save tackle.

4 Cowboys players to watch against the Patriots
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs for a touchdown against the New York Giants during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, October 10, 2021 (AP Photo / Michael Ainsworth)

Ezekiel Elliott

The Pro Bowl running back hasn’t done much in the first two weeks of the season, which suggests he could start declining at just 26.

Too bad for all that.

Elliott’s last three games: 95 yards and two rushing touchdowns against Philadelphia; 143 yards and one touchdown against the Carolina Panthers; and 110 yards and a TD against the New York Giants.

He ranks behind Derrick Henry for runs of 10 yards or more, is tied for second with Kareem Hunt and James Conner (behind Henry again) with five rushing touchdowns, and is third behind Henry and Nick Chubb of Cleveland for rushing yards (452).

Give the Patriots credit for bottling the (admittedly anemic) Texans ‘hasty attack after a few questions about their ability to control opposing teams’ ground games. But this week will be a much more difficult challenge against a much better offensive line and a much better running back.

The Cowboys have no qualms about feeding Elliott with football, giving him more than 20 runs in the past two weeks. So New England will have to buckle up again and stop the All-Pro back from eating chunks of footage and helping set up the Dallas playing action.

The defense obviously cannot afford to forget Amari Cooper (318 yards on reception) and CeeDee Lamb (348 yards), who accounted for nearly half of Prescott’s 1,368 yards passing together and are both dangerous on field.

But if Elliott goes wild on the pitch, the Patriots likely won’t win this game.



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