FRISCO, TX — There will be no stealing signs, so to speak, when the Dallas Cowboys host the New England Patriots on Sunday at AT&T Stadium; at least not if head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have any say in the matter, and they do.
Bill Belichick signed former Cowboys' running back Ezekiel Elliott in mid-August, making their Week 4 matchup that much more tantalizing. Belichick has since poached former Cowboys' quarterback Will Grier from the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad — late last week, to be specific — in what could truly be viewed as a possible game of chess in New England.
But owner and general manager Jerry Jones doesn't sound too worried about it.
"I think you have to assume you've been scouted out pretty good, especially as you get on and into the season — when you play a game in the NFL," said Jones to 105.3FM the Fan on Wednesday. "There's a lot of people that can read your mail."
Jones harkens back to an instance when he was reminded that it's not simply what you know, but it's also about what you can do about what you know.
"I'll never forget I was on the competition committee and Marty Schottenheimer, Brian's dad, was on the committee; and Don Shula was on the committee," Jones explained. "There were four or five coaches on that committee. We had won the Super Bowl and Don Shula said, 'Everyone knew whether you were gonna pass or run, Jerry. And everybody knew, generally, what direction was gonna be. And, yet, nobody could stop you.'
"So there's a lot [to] having the element of guesswork put into that defense and what they're gonna do. It's a big thing, but it is not the end of the world for somebody to have guessed right or selected right on what you're coming with, and you still [can make] the big play.
"I put it as something you sure need to try to protect, is your information and you're play-calling, but I don't think it's terminal on any given play."
It's something that goes on regularly around the NFL, even in Dallas. For example, you can read into the signing of former Giants' offensive lineman Sean Harlow in the days ahead of the Week 1 matchup at MetLife Stadium in much the same way you could've interpreted the Giants signing former Cowboys' wideout Dennis Houston to their practice squad the same week.
It's the game inside of the game but, ultimately, the one that matters most must still be played on the field, and that's where execution, talent level, adaptation, etc. all take center stage.
And as far as adaptation goes, expect the Cowboys to deploy a good bit of it in Week 4, and a part of that will lie in a misdirection of hand signals and some purposeful personnel trappings.
"Those are things we monitor every week, but obviously Will and Zeke know where the bones are buried," said Schottenheimer on Monday. "Those are things you talk about. We certainly have more than one hand signal for most of our core concepts, and sometimes you can use it to your advantage. Everybody does it.
"You get a player that's played somewhere, you bring them in to talk about different things, and you're very selective about how much you put into it."
So while the Cowboys will lovingly welcome the homecoming of both Elliott and Grier, they'll do so with the goal of sending them and their new teammates home with a loss.
"I'm excited to see Will, but I'm sure he's being interrogated," said Schottenheimer. "It'll be a lot of late nights with the defensive coaching staff."
As the Cowboys try to avoid their first two-game losing streak since 2021, they're leaving no stone unturned in the looming cerebral matchup with Belichick.