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The Dallas Cowboys square off against the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon in a quest to extend their winning streak to five games. The Cowboys return to the road fir the first time since mid-September and unlike their last trip to Foxboro the weather is projected to be glorious for football.
Dallas hasn’t beaten Bill Belichick in a long time, but the matchup seems to indicate the Cowboys are the better team, they’ll just have to go out and prove it. These aren’t your older brother’s Patriots anymore. To help understand exactly what Dallas will be walking into, Cowboys Wire reached out to Patriots Wire’s managing editor Henry McKenna to lend some insight into what New England is bringing to the table. In the latest installment of our QTNA series, we go behind enemy lines with questions for each other.
Patriots Wire: Where do you think Dak Prescott ranks among the NFL's top quarterbacks?
I think the debate about QB rankings is fun, but there are so many quality signal callers nowadays, I don’t think it much matters the exact placement. Remember five years ago when there was concern about the aging of QBs around the league? Tuh.
I think Prescott is firmly in the group of top QBs in the league. Mahomes is on top, even with his down year, and Brady is the best of all time. Rodgers is an all-time great. After those three, shake up and roll out any combination of Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Josh Allen in any order and you won’t get much argument from me. Just don’t try and slip Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Kirk Cousins in the discussion. Thems fighting words.
Cowboys Wire: Mac Jones was QB5 in the draft, but I'm sure No. 1 in your hearts. He seems to be having the most early success among the rookie QBs. Circumstance or do the Patriots really have something there?
HA! Love that line. My sense is that it’s the circumstances. If you look at Mac Jones’ passing charts through the first five weeks, you’ll see that he rarely throws the ball 20+ yards past the line of scrimmage and when he does, he’s among the worst in the NFL at it. It doesn’t help that he’s getting constant pressure from a leaky offensive line. But there’s no doubt Jones must be better seeing and throwing deeper downfield. Because he’s been awful at it, New England has resorted to hammering the screen game along with quick and easy passes for the rookie. They’re coddling him. He’s starting to push himself (and the ball). Until we see him do that with consistency, the jury is out on whether he’ll be a reliable NFL starter.
Patriots Wire: What had made Kellen Moore so successful? Can you briefly break down what he does to help his offense succeed?
Moore is a mad scientist, a good friend Skywalker Steele from A to Z Sports said his nickname should be Heisenberg because he’s cooking up the best product and it has a signature blue tint. I’m with it. He’s married the vertical passing concept of Air Coryell, the West Coast influence from Mike McCarthy along with the creativity he learned stewarding Chris Petersen’s team at Boise State into a flexible, unstoppable monster.
He has a room full of No. 1 options sharing the spotlight because they know if they don’t shine this week, they’ll shine the next. One of the biggest differences is Dallas’ ability to adjust their plan at halftime and completely dominate third quarters.
Cowboys Wire: There isn't anything Bill Belichick hasn't seen in this world, so I'm sure he has a trick or two up his sleeve for the Cowboys offense. What are the strong points of this year's defense?
EDGE Matthew Judon has 6.5 sacks, so he’ll be a tough man to block. CB J.C. Jackson has been really solid in coverage, even against a wideout like Mike Evans. And then there’s old reliable: Devin McCourty. He is supposed to keep the lid on the defense (though he had some serious issues last week against the Texans in an all-around atrocious game). My expectation is that, with a group of versatile, veteran linebackers (Judon, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Josh Uche), Belichick will draw up exotic fronts in an effort to mess with Prescott before the snap.
Patriots Wire: How is the Mike McCarthy era? It felt like there were endless jokes it would feel eerily like the Jason Garrett era. Has that been true at all?
2020 was bumpy, to say the least. COVID robbing the team of an offseason to get acclimated to a new regime, the misstep of hiring Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and then the mountain of injuries had many second-guessing him. The one takeaway though was that he proved to his team that they would be aggressive in chasing victory and not shy away from bold action. He spent a bad year instilling that belief in players and that was a stark contrast to the play-it-safe Garrett regime.
Cowboys Wire: What's been the feel following the departure of Tom Brady? It's been a year, the Patriots saw him win a Super Bowl. Is there a course charted to a return or are there still a lot of QTNAs?
We’re still very much in the QTNA phase of the post-Brady rebuild. Is Jones good? Unclear. Was Belichick’s free-agency spending spree worthwhile? Also unclear. Does Belichick have the same edge as a coach at this point in his career? Yes, unclear. The next five games could absolutely sink this Patriots’ team, if they’re not careful. And that’s strange in New England, which isn’t used to being irrelevant at midseason for consecutive years.
Patriots Wire: Can you introduce us to two Cowboys, one from offense and one from defense, who are enjoying breakout seasons?
Patriots fans love tight ends, so they’ll love Dalton Schultz, but the answer on offense is probably Cedrick Wilson. WR4 has filled in for Michael Gallup. He’s a big-play threat who has great rapport with Prescott and he’s the trick play artist on the club.
On defense, Randy Gregory is finally out of the suspension whirlpool and is living his best life. He’s overcome so much and to see him happy and harassing quarterbacks on a regular basis is everything fans thought they were getting in 2015. The Cowboys are being rewarded for sticking with him.
Cowboys Wire: The Cowboys' fan base probably isn't too familiar with much of the New England roster anymore. Who is there we need to be aware of for this game?
I rattled of a bunch of important defensive players in the answer above, so I feel like we’re covered there. Let’s go to the offense. New England signed receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry this offseason. They’ve all experienced mixed success in the offense with none of them emerging as the No. 1 option.
Receiver Jakobi Meyers is a Julian Edelman type, with most of his snaps coming in the slot. (Meyers can also throw the ball well on trick plays, which the Patriots use a lot.) The running back group is injured, with Damien Harris dealing with a rib issue. They’ve also been very prone to fumbles this year.
Patriots Wire: Who wins? Why?
It appears from a distance that New England doesn’t have much success throwing deep and instead likes underneath and short passes. It’s hard to see how that works with the speed Dallas has at linebacker and the way Trevon Diggs is stalking any throw sent his direction. I have no doubt BB will cook up something that can confound the Dallas offense, much like the Chargers’ Brandon Staley could, but Moore will eventually figure things out. Cowboys win, 27-13.
Cowboys Wire: What's your game prediction?
Patriots win 24-21. I recognize the Cowboys are a better team. I recognize this is a contrarian pick. My sense, however, is that this will be a galvanizing game for the Patriots, who have inched closer and closer to establishing themselves this year. I think they’ll be hungry enough to scrape together a win.