(Editor's Note: Each Tuesday, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will present "The Big Picture" for the upcoming game, presenting an overall update for each team as they head into the upcoming contest. This week, the Cowboys and the undefeated Patriots square off in Week 5 at AT&T Stadium.)
WHAT: New England Patriots (3-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
WHEN:Sunday, 3:25 p.m. (Central)
WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
The Cowboys have lost two consecutive games for the first time since midway through the 2014 season when Tony Romo missed parts of both games with a back injury. They've never lost three straight under head coach Jason Garrett.
To get back above .500, the Cowboys' offense must operate without Romo (fractured collarbone), wide receiver Dez Bryant (foot surgery) and now running back Lance Dunbar, who's expected to have season-ending surgery for a torn ACL.
The defense also lost linebacker/captain Sean Lee in the first quarter against the Saints. Lee will go through concussion protocol this week, and his possible availability Sunday would be a major boost in trying to limit Tom Brady and the Patriots' top-ranked scoring offense.
The two franchises last met in 2011, with New England winning 20-16 on a late touchdown drive by Brady. The Cowboys lead the all-time series, 7-4.
New England Patriots
They're only three games in, but Tom Brady and the world champions are on an early pace for an NFL-record 634 points scored. (Peyton Manning and the 2013 Denver Broncos hold the record at 606.) The Patriots have outscored their first three opponents 119-70 (39.7 average), and they're also rested coming off their early-season bye week.
Brady, of course, is the catalyst in his 16th season. Currently he ranks fourth among NFL quarterbacks with a 119.6 passer rating (370.7 yards per game, 9 touchdowns, no interceptions). His go-to guy, tight end Rob Gronkowski, ranks fifth in receiving yards per game (102.7) and is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (4).
But the Patriots' offense has thrived on balance all these years. Even with wide receiver Brandon LaFell on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list until Week 7, Brady has spread passes around to multiple targets including Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis and former Cowboy Danny Amendola.
New England also can beat defenses using multiple running backs; Lewis stepped in for a suspended LaGarrette Blount in the season opener and averaged 4.6 yards on 15 carries.
Defensively, Bill Belichick's group absorbed multiple personnel losses in the offseason, most notably Darrelle Revis (Jets), Brandon Browner (Saints) and Vince Wilfork (Texans). They're still a pressure and takeaway defense, with seven different players already registering a sack and four different players registering an interception. Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty leads the secondary, defensive end Chandler Jones paces the pass rush, and third-year linebacker Jamie Collins is emerging as a star.