NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
It’s always fun when America’s team comes to town. The fact that the Patriots are wearing their white jerseys at home, forcing the Cowboys to wear their “jinxed” blue jerseys adds even more fun into the mix.
The Patriots are facing a very talented Cowboys team this weekend and here’s some of the things I’ll be watching:
GET PRESSURE ON ROMO
I’m a little sick of talking about the Patriots pass rush (or lack thereof) at this point, but here we go. Tony Romo won’t make Romo-esque mistakes if he’s not getting pressured. We saw the same thing last week with Mark Sanchez. The Patriots couldn’t get consistent pressure on him and we didn’t get any turnovers. The problem here is that Romo is a lot better than Sanchez and he’s got far better offensive weapons around him. At this point, Romo is probably the most underrated QB in the league. He’s talked down because of his fourth quarter “unclutch” play, but without that he holds up as a top 7 or 8 QB in the league.
The Patriots will need to win the turnover battle this week to win and the key to get turnovers is to get pressure on Romo. Rob Ninkovich and Mark Anderson have been the best Patriots pass rushers this year, watch for them to make an impact against the Cowboys young offensive line. With Phillip Adams cut today, that might mean good news for Ras-I Dowling. Dowling has been out since week 2 and would be a great matchup against Bryant or Austin. Dowling is a big, fast, physical CB who played very well against Brandon Marshall and the Chargers big WRs.
CONTAIN FELIX JONES
It’s been a theme all year and Felix Jones is the exact kind of running back the Patriots might have trouble with. Vince Wilfork, Shaun Ellis, Kyle Love and Andre Carter have had no trouble stopping RBs running inside the tackles, but when backs start to run to the outside, it forces Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton into action. The Patriots linebackers and Patrick Chung will need to do a good job of containment to make sure Jones doesn’t break off any big plays. Carter has been very good against the run the last couple weeks, he could be very big in stopping Jones.
The zone defense the Patriots have been utilizing the past couple weeks also seems to open up the flat a little bit for dump offs and check down to running backs. Jones is also an explosive threat in the passing game if he gets some open space in front of him could be trouble. The linebackers will have to do a better job in coverage than they have recently.
SAFETIES NEED TO HAVE A BIG GAME
Between helping out against Jones, covering Jason Witten and helping over the top on Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, the safeties are going to have to play their best game of the season. Chung is far and away the best safety on the roster, but he still tends to struggle in coverage against speedier WRs. Ihedigbo did a good job against his former team last week, but there’s also a reason that last week was the former Minuteman’s first career NFL start. Regardless of the role the safeties are playing Sunday, they’re definitely going to have to step up their game for the Patriots to win.
ATTACK THE COWBOYS SECONDARY EARLY AND OFTEN
This is the second week in a row facing a Ryan-manned defense and the second year in a row facing a Rob Ryan lead defense. The former Patriots linebackers coach knows New England and Bill Belichick like few other coaches in the NFL and will surely have complex game plan prepared. According to Evan Silva from rotoworld, last season the Browns double teamed Welker and Branch, wouldn’t let Gronkowski get off the line into routes and basically let Hernandez run free. The Pats TEs were still inexperienced at the time and the Patriots couldn’t get anything going in their running game.
I’m looking forward to the Welker-Orlando Scandrick matchup and I don’t think the Cowboys have anyone to cover Gronkowski or Hernandez. With Hernandez back, that opens up a lot of room for Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco. I’m assuming that Danny Woodhead will be questionable this week against Dallas. If he’s back that opens the no-huddle offense back up for the Patriots, which means that 400-500 yards is never out of the question for Tom Brady.
STOP DEMARCUS WARE
With a team full of dangerous weapons, Ware might be the scariest. He’s the best pass rusher in the league and he lines up all over the field. Luckily, it looks like Sebastian Vollmer might be back this week. Thomas Welch filled in fine as a 3rd TE/OL, but having Light, Vollmer and Solder on the field at the same team will be huge in stopping the Cowboys pass rush.
Dan Gronkowski is also back with the team this week and will definitely get some playing time as a blocking 3rd TE. The key every week is to keep Brady on his feet. The Cowboys have thirteen sacks already this season. I’d like to see their average sacks/game go down after week five.
GET BENJARVUS GREEN-ELLIS AND STEVAN RIDLEY INVOLVED EARLY
The key last in last week’s victory was the Patriots balanced offense. It’s going to be extremely difficult to stop this New England offense if they can be effective in the run and passing game. Green-Ellis got on a roll last week, but it could be Ridley or even Woodhead this week. Since the Patriots almost always have two tight ends on the field at the same time and only run one RB sets outside of the goal line, they can switch between run and passing plays at will.
Mayo, Mallett, Vereen, Price, Barrett, Marcus Harrison, Tarpinian