Pats vs Cowboys Review

When the schedule was released back in April, it revealed that the Patriots had back-to-back road games vs the Cowboys and Colts.

Heading into the season, that looked to be a tough stretch, and the first real challenge of the season for the Pats (factoring in no Le’Veon Bell for Pittsburgh).

We didn’t quite get the matchup we were hoping for this past Sunday due to key injuries to Dallas’s Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Injuries that have sputtered the Cowboys passing game, and have led to three straight losses.

Although the score was eventually lopsided, the Cowboys did do a number of things well defensively against the Patriots. Including sacking Tom Brady five times, slowing Rob Gronkowski, and forcing four first half punts.

Let’s take a look at some of the main story lines from Week 5:

Offensive Line: The Patriots offensive line has been a surprising success in the early going, with three solid performances heading into the bye week. The Cowboys were able to get to Brady, especially in the first half, a lot more than other opponents in the previous three games. The Cowboys 3-2 front led to some confusion with blocking assignments, but the five sacks of Brady in the first half were really due to offensive lineman getting beat one-on-one. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer had been rock solid in the previous three games, but struggled in the first half against Dallas. Credit to the unit for turning it around in the second half, and for a solid performance in the run game. Greg Hardy was also a force out there, and proved to be very difficult to block.

Nate Solder Injury: The first injury blow of the season for the Patriots as they lose their starting left tackle for the season. Solder has logged an obscene amount of snaps since his rookie season, and has done a nice job so far in 2015. Anytime a team loses their starting left tackle it is going to be tough to overcome. When you factor in this weeks past performance from the o-line, this is even more worrisome. Marcus Cannon replaced Solder in Sunday’s game, so expect him to step in. Moving right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to the left side is also a possibility if Cannon struggles.

Cowboys Dime Defense: One of the main reasons that the Patriots struggled offensively in the first half was due to a wrinkle thrown at them by Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Marinelli typically plays a 4-3 front with Tampa-2 coverage in the secondary, but played predominantly in the dime on Sunday. The five defensive back look allowed the Cowboys to match-up with the Patriots weapons on the outside, and Dallas also rushed the passer effectively with just three down lineman. The formation took the Patriots by surprise as they had to scrap the game plan and attack Dallas differently. Credit to Dallas for throwing a curveball, and credit to the Patriots for adjusting on the fly.

Byron Jones: Jones was someone that I thought the Patriots might target in last years draft. His measurables were off the charts, and he’s an extremely versatile player. We saw Jones deliver a tremendous performance on Sunday going toe-to-toe with Rob Gronkowski. Gronk was held to just 67 yards on 4 receptions, his lowest yardage output of the season. Jones protected against the deep ball down the seam, and forced Gronk to beat him underneath and on back shoulder throws. Dallas has found themselves a good one in Jones. 

Edelman/Dion Lewis: Kill two birds with one stone here by discussing each touchdown reception for Edelman and Lewis. On both plays, Edelman and Lewis demonstrated tremendous after the catch ability. Lewis elluded four Dallas tacklers on one play to get into the end zone on one of the better touchdown catch and runs of the season, and Edelman might have topped him with his fantastic cutback in the open field to split multiple Dallas defenders. Both Edelman and Lewis have played better than anyone could have expected through the first four games.

Secondary: Now I know what you’re thinking, it was Brandon Weeden and a receiving core led by Terrance Williams. Having said that, this was the secondaries best performance of the young season. The Patriots played mostly cover-1 man, with Malcolm Butler on the right side of the formation and Logan Ryan/Terrell Brown on the left. Without any real receiving threats for the Cowboys, the Patriots didn’t match-up specifically other than on tight end Jason Witten. Witten mostly drew Devin McCourty in coverage who completely shut down the future hall of famer. Dallas was averaging 239.0 pass YPG in Weeden’s first two starts (I know, not good), and the Patriots held the ‘Boys to just 188 yards through the air (still not good). The secondary gets high marks across the board, completely shutting down the Dallas passing attack.   

Front 7: This was an up and down performance for me from the front 7. On one hand, they did get to Brandon Weeden three times, and are tied for 4th in the NFL in sacks (16). They also were very solid against the Cowboys running game, which has been a weak point defensively this season. On the other hand, they only pressured Weeden 13 times in the game, and didn’t get much pressure unless they were blitzing either Jamie Collins or Dont’a Hightower threw the A Gap. The lack of pressure while just rushing three or four has been worrisome this season. In future matchups, the Patriots won’t be able to blitz Hightower and Collins so freely. They are going to need more pressure from Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, and Ninkovich.