Patriots at Cowboys Preview

Heading into the bye week at 3-0 wasn’t much of a surprise for the Patriots. It’s also not much of a surprise that they are 8.5-point favorites heading into Sunday’s game against the Cowboys.

The Cowboys have been decimated with injuries. They came into the season with high expectations, but losing Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Orlando Scandrick (lost for season) for an extended period of time is going to hurt any team.

They’ve also lost their receiving back Lance Dunbar, and second round pick Randy Gregory.

Losing Romo and Bryant forced the Cowboys to start leaning on their vaunted offensive line and running game to score points.

It has proved to be just as effective in terms of points per game in Romo and Dez’s absence:

 

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Having said that, without Romo, the Cowboys are 0-2 in the all important win column.

They have been beaten late in games by better quarterbacks (Matt Ryan and Drew Brees) and better playmakers (Julio, Freeman, Spiller).

The Falcons ran away with the game in Week 3 in the second half. Erasing an 11-point Dallas lead on the road.

Against the Saints, Drew Brees got the better of the Cowboys in the fourth quarter and overtime. Ending OT with an 80-yard TD pass to Spiller in just 13 seconds.

 

On Offense:

Offensive line: The Cowboys offense is led by one of the best offensive lines in all of football. The Cowboys start 3 first round picks in Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, and the best of them all left tackle Tyron Smith. They also signed rookie La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent who should have also been a first rounder. The Cowboys have scored 5 touchdowns on the ground in the last two games to go along with 121.0 rush yards per game. Joseph Randle has stepped up his game as well, but much of the success on the ground is a result of these guys up front. From a Patriots prospective, it will be interesting to see how the front seven holds up against an o-line that can truly control games.

Joseph Randle: Randle has turned things around after a rocky start. He has found the end zone four times these last two games. Randle ranks near the top of the league in terms of yards after contact logging 184 yards after initial contact with a defender. That ranks him second in the league behind Chicago’s Matt Forte. It may take multiple tacklers to bring Randle down.

Jason Witten: Witten doesn’t put up the same numbers as he used to, but he has to be accounted for and is a great blocker. Witten has had four 1,000 yard seasons in his very good career, but isn’t the same player in the passing game. He is still a reliable veteran and a weapon in the run game.

 

On Defense: Defensively the Cowboys play in a base 4-3 while playing a lot of Tampa-2 coverage (two deep safeties). Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was the assistant and defensive line coach of the 2002 Bucs. They have three players on their defense that attempt to mimic Buccaneer greats DT Warren Sapp, WLB Derrick Brooks, and SS John Lynch.

Tyrone Crawford: Crawford does his best to play hall of famer Warren Sapps role. Obviously he doesn’t do it as well as Sapp, but he’s definitely somebody that needs to be identified up front. Crawford tallied 14 QB hits in 2014, which is tied for most on the team. Crawford has played the second most snaps of any Cowboys defensive lineman behind only defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.

Sean Lee: Injury concerns always come with Lee, but he’s probable for Sunday. Lee suffered a mild concussion last week, but expects to play. He leads the team in tackles, and is their signal caller on defense. Lee man’s the weak side linebacker position, giving his best Derrick Brooks impression.

Barry Church: Church provides a physical presence in the Cowboys secondary, as he ranks third on the team in tackles from his strong safety position. Church was near the top of the leaderboard last year among safeties in terms of run stops, and has played at a similar level through the first four games this season.