Patriots’ toughest test so far this season will come Sunday vs. Cowboys

Ryan Hannable
November 21, 2019 - 8:04 am

FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick always hypes up the Patriots’ opponent during his Wednesday press conference, but this week it was on a different level.

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“This is a real good football team coming in here this weekend,” he began in an opening statement full of praise of the Cowboys that lasted just under three minutes. “They really do everything well, create a lot of problems in all three phases of the game, very well coached, great players, great personnel. Good situational football team, very explosive team. They put a lot of pressure on you on every single down. So, this will be a big challenge for us.”

It didn’t stop there, either.

“Possession passes on third down, best third down team in the league, best passing team in the league, most big plays in the league – I mean, I don’t know where you want to start, they do it all,” Belichick later added.

The coach continued with tons of praise for the entire Dallas organization from the top with Jerry and Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett, all the down to the players like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot.

While Belichick has been accused of pumping up his opponents over the years, this was not one of them. The Cowboys are the real deal and will be the Patriots’ toughest test of the entire season.

The reason why is quite simple.

On top of talented players across the board, the two biggest strengths for Dallas are New England’s biggest weaknesses. 

The Cowboys have a dominant offensive line and one of the best running backs in the league in Elliott, while the Patriots are 23rd in the league in stopping the run, allowing 4.6 yards per carry. And then the Patriots’ offensive line has been a major issue through 10 games, and the Cowboys have one of the better and most aggressive defensive fronts in the game.

If the Cowboys feed Elliott and then put Prescott, who is on pace for 5,000 passing yards and is a legitimate MVP candidate at the moment, in favorable passing situations, the Dallas offense could potentially expose the New England defense like the Ravens did just a few weeks ago.

On the other side of the ball, if the Cowboys can pressure Brady, it could be bad news for the Patriots offense. According to Next Gen Stats, Brady has completed just 32.9 percent of his throws when under pressure this season, and that's the second-lowest mark in the NFL. The 42-year-old has had a tremendous amount of success against the blitz in the past, but not this year. His completion percentage has gone from 65.5 percent last year to 52.4 percent this year, and then his passer rating has gone from 108.9 to 76.6.

Now the biggest wild card in the game is Garrett. 

If he stays out of the way and sticks with the Cowboys’ strengths, they have a legitimate chance of winning. But, there’s also a chance he tries to over-coach and do too much, which has happened for many coaches when taking on Belichick and the Patriots over the years.

To this point in the year, the narrative with the Patriots has been their success has come against below average teams, and their only real good wins were in Week 4 against the Bills and then last week on the road against the Eagles.

Dallas ranks No. 1 in DVOA, fourth in points per game and first in yards per game, so a win this week would begin to flip that narrative. And it really could be changed based on what happens the next few weeks with games against the Texans and Chiefs on deck.

Make no mistake about it Dallas is really good. And if there are any questions about that, go ask Belichick.

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