DALLAS — We’ve arrived at the Dallas Cowboys' toughest game of the regular season. The New England Patriots have been the gold standard for the better part of the last two decades and have the league’s best record as Dallas comes to town.
The Patriots essentially became what many thought the early 1990s Cowboys should have been, had it not been for the divorce of Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson. These teams diverged around that time but remain two of the most popular sports franchises in the world.
On Sunday afternoon, they will do battle with the world watching.
For the Cowboys, this is an opportunity to keep a stranglehold on their NFC East lead and prove that they belong among the top teams.
A victory at New England won’t be an easy task, however. The Patriots’ only loss so far this season was to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9. That defeat came on the road, which further solidifies the notion that New England is forever difficult to beat in Foxboro, where Dallas faces their unenviable task as underdogs.
As unlikely as it seems, Dallas can win. Here’s a look at what they’ll need to do to defy odds on Sunday:
Let Dak Prescott attack
There’s no question that this has become Dak Prescott’s team. Despite a defense that is having more difficulty stopping the run (see the Minnesota and Green Bay games), a special teams unit that has been anything but special, and some questionable calls from the coaching staff, Prescott has willed this team to a 6-4 record.
The team will need him to continue his MVP-level play against the No. 1 defense in the league if the Cowboys are to have any shot at upending New England. Dallas is the league’s top offense in terms of yards per game and passing yards per game, which is exactly how they will need to flourish to have a chance on Sunday.
The Cowboys need to find a way to attack the defense and Prescott is the man for the job. However, this football team is built to play with a lead and that is where Prescott needs to improve. Dallas has fallen behind early in games far too often, which has put the defense in some perilous situations.
With how explosive this offense has shown to be, Dallas needs a quick start to allow the team to settle in and take over.
The trio of Randall Cobb, Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper need to put pressure on the defense and allow Prescott to reward them. Should Dallas get rolling early, they have a real opportunity to take down the 9-1 Patriots and hand Tom Brady his first ever loss to the Cowboys.
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure
Brady has been one of the most blitzed quarterbacks in the league this season and that shouldn’t change come Sunday. The Cowboys need to create pressure on Brady by getting in his face up the middle.
As of late, the six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback has been getting pressured heavily and it has caused his performance to dip, which should give Dallas some hope if they can get after him off the line. Early on this season, it looked as if the 42-year-old Brady hadn’t aged a bit but as pressure has dialed up, the arrow has pointed downward.
Of course, getting to Brady is always easier said than done. Even with a stellar effort from the pass rush, Brady is still one of the quickest at getting the ball out to his receivers. Brady’s ability to swiftly find his target is why, even as he has been blitzed more often, he has taken fewer sacks and hits than almost any other quarterback in the league.
In fact, both Brady and Prescott have taken the fewest number of sacks on the year. Forcing Brady to make even quicker decisions than he is comfortable with might be the key to getting a turnover or two. Indeed, Brady has turned the ball over a little more frequently of late than he did early on in the season.
Being able to commit to rushing Brady is another reason why the Cowboys need an early lead. If New England falls behind, the Cowboys can take risks with their pass rush and recognize that the Patriots will be more inclined to throw the ball if they are trailing, putting Dallas at an advantage.
An early lead would give Michael Bennett, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Robert Quinn the opportunity to wreak havoc. The goals should be to build a lead with Prescott, rush the passer, and then let Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard play keep away until the clock reads zeros.
The youth must be served
For the Cowboys to win, they will need to get production across the board from their veteran regulars. However, they also have youngsters who are champing at the bit to get a shot to do damage. Dallas shouldn’t shy away from throwing everything they’ve got at the Patriots.
Rookie RB Pollard is a guy who should be on the field more to create a competitive advantage for the offense. His ability to alter games was evident last week in Detroit when he took a pass from Prescott, forced a missed tackle by the sideline, and scampered in for a touchdown.
Pollard has the ability to change the game in a matter of moments. Dallas needs to put Pollard in and watch what happens next.
Another young player who needs to see more action is Blake Jarwin. The third-year tight end has shown flashes of what he could be in this offense. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy has the ability to challenge defenses up the middle in ways that starter Jason Witten no longer offers.
The ability to convert chances up the seams is an area that Dak Prescott has really improved this season, and Jarwin is a target that can help. With so much attention going to the wide receiver trio, this is where Jarwin and the Cowboys can put pressure on the league’s top defense.
Will all of this said, the Cowboys walking out of Foxboro with a win on Sunday is a tall task. It’s perhaps not quite a David versus Goliath scenario for two first-place teams, but it feels like one for a team that lost to the New York Jets a few weeks back. Is it Impossible? No. Improbable? Maybe.
The Patriots are very well coached and have a cerebral, all-time great quarterback under center. The Cowboys have a real opportunity with an MVP candidate signal caller of their own, but a win against New England on the road is perhaps too much to ask of the 2019 Cowboys.
Patriots 27, Cowboys 23
Do you think the Cowboys can pull off the upset and collect a signature win for the 2019 season? Share your predictions with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.
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