FRISCO, Texas – Three quick topics about Sunday's mega-matchup in New England:
- Dak & Tom
- Hidden Yardage
Jerry Jones wasn't speaking in hyperbole when he compared Dak Prescott to Tom Brady earlier this season.
In terms of longevity, clutchability and jewelry, Brady is unmatched. Might be that way forever.
That wasn't Jones' message.
"The point is," he said Oct. 4 on 105.3 The Fan, "he (Dak) is evolving into a guy that will beat you. He will beat you with different circumstances and different players and different type teams. He will be on teams that have better defense than others. He will be on teams that have better protection than others. I think we've got us one in Dak."
Six weeks later, that belief in Prescott is bearing out.
Brady himself evolved in the mid-2000s. In 2004, his fourth year as a starter, his yards per attempt jumped from 6.9 to 7.8 and he tied a career high with 28 touchdown passes. The Patriots completed their own Triplets-era run with three titles in four years.
Similarly, Russell Wilson incrementally developed into an elite passer. Seattle relied heavily on the run game his first three seasons. In 2015, he set career highs in passing yardage (4,024), touchdown passes (34) and yards per attempt (8.3).
Something clicked. And, as Zeke Elliott said Sunday after Prescott's 444-yard performance against Detroit, something is clicking here.
This year, Prescott leads the league with a career-high 8.8 yards per attempt. He's two touchdowns shy of his career high (23) set his 2016 rookie season. Elliott is still vital to this offense, despite knee-jerk reactions from observers after two straight games with under 50 rushing yards. But the passing game, led by Prescott, is the most dangerous it's been the last four seasons.
Year 4 isn't a magic number for quarterbacks, necessarily. I'm just using it as an example. Generally speaking, QB is the ultimate time-on-task position. It takes hundreds of pre-snap looks, adjustments and crunch situations in road environments before you've just about seen it all.
Sunday is the ultimate test. Bill Belichick and the Patriots are famous for disguising coverages and stifling passing attacks.
It'll be a learning experience, regardless of the outcome. But Prescott is more prepared for this than at any point in his young career.
the Patriots are the most unique opponent the Cowboys have faced in years.
Not because it's Brady & Belichick. Or because the Pats are 9-1. It's how that legendary duo has gotten to 9-1 this year.
New England is a tick above the Cowboys in points per game (28.7 to 28.6) thanks in part to four touchdowns by their top-ranked defense, tying San Francisco for second in the league. The Cowboys do have one: Jourdan Lewis' fumble return against the Giants.
Brady has voiced frustration with the Pats' offense, which ranks 16th with 359.9 yards per game. (More on that below.) But their top-ranked defense consistently gives them quality scoring chances.
Get this: New England has started a whopping 24 drives at midfield or inside opponents' territory this season, leading to six touchdowns and nine field goals. (By comparison, the Cowboys have started 8 drives in opposing territory, resulting in four touchdowns and three field goals.)
The Pats lead the league in turnover margin at plus-18, and it's not even close: The next-best team is Green Bay at plus-9.
The team with better field position and fewer mistakes probably wins Sunday.
I Have No Idea…
how many different receivers have cycled through the Pats' offense over the years – it's got to be a large number, even for the salary cap era – but they've had significant turnover this year in particular.
In 10 games, Brady has already completed passes to 17 different receivers, running backs and tight ends. The Pats have retooled their receiving core midseason after releasing Josh Gordon and Anthony Brown. Mohamed Sanu just arrived at the trade deadline. First-round pick N'Keal Harry just made his debut. And tight end has been a bit of a revolving door following Gronk's retirement. There's little doubt Brady and company will sort it out soon.
It's also a reminder of how the Cowboys have stabilized their receiver rotation in the last calendar year. Amari Cooper's arrival last October solved the post-Dez committee. Michael Gallup has emerged opposite Cooper. Randall Cobb has been steady all season and spectacular the last two games.
"That's what we pride ourselves on is we have guys who can get the job done across the board," Cobb said Sunday.
So do the Patriots, despite their roster changes. Sunday should be fun.