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Mailbag: Not Afraid Of Third-And-Long Anymore? 


Special teams hasn't come into play recently in terms of having an effect on the game, but close games against Bill Belichick-coached teams often come down to special teams play. Will the score be close enough for special teams to play a role? — MARCO ASPAAS / VANCOUVER, WA

Nick: I think that's what makes the Patriots so good for so long – other than having GOATS at head coach and quarterback – is they do the little things to perfection. And yes, this game and all games, if the Cowboys don't take care of business and keep the game close, then it'll come to a play or two here and there, and usually it stems from special teams. One thing I'll say is the Cowboys are doing a great job in the kicking game. Bryan Anger leads the NFL in net punting average and Greg Zuerlein leads the league in touchbacks. That means other teams are having to drive a long ways. So let's not forget the special teams units are doing a pretty good job, although it doesn't always show on the surface.

David: Great question, and it's something to watch. Special teams were a glaring weakness when the Cowboys lost this game in 2019, as the Patriots used a blocked punt to help them score the game's only touchdown. I know we've talked a lot about whether or not John Fassel is too aggressive. Even if that's the case, I think this team's special teams have been sounder overall since he took over. I don't think the Cowboys will lose this game because of a special teams lapse, I'll put it that way.

It seemed like in years past it only took one penalty to stall a drive. This year, we seem to routinely overcome first-and-15 or first-and-20. Do you think that is showing the maturation in Kellen Moore's play calling? Can it simply be better execution? To my eye, Kellen is showing more patience than in the past when facing these situations. — RANDY CHILDS / NORTH GRAFTON, MA

Nick: I think it's just an ability to be explosive on offense. And yes, there's a trust factor in Dak Prescott to go out there and get the ball down the field. But when your running backs are averaging about 5.0 yards per carry, plus the fact the tight ends are always seemingly open over the middle, they can make up for a penalty here and there. Trust in the process, confidence, patience, great play-caller, great quarterback and great players around them are all contributing to that.

David: I think it's a combination of things. For starters, the Cowboys are running the ball absurdly well. It's easier to avoid falling too far behind the chains when you're capable of running for 7-8 yards per attempt. On top of that, it does seem like Kellen Moore's sense of timing is fantastic. I'm sure this isn't 100% accurate, but it really feels like every screen he has called this season has been effective. So when you have the combination of an offense that can get itself out of bad situations and a play caller who has a good sense of how to help them do that, good stuff tends to happen.

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