IRVING, Texas – This game is going to look cut-and-dry to a lot of people, and there's no doubt the Cowboys are facing an uphill battle when the Patriots arrive this weekend.
Despite that, this is still the NFL and the Cowboys still will field 53 pro-caliber talents against New England on Sunday. Anything can happen on any given Sunday, as they like to say, so let's take a look at this week's keys to the game:
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
Tom Brady is going to try and turn this into a track meet, which is a game the Cowboys cannot win in their current state.
In going back and studying the Patriots' three road losses last season, it came down to two factors – third-down conversions and time of possession. You could say that both go hand-in-hand, but that's going to be the difference in this game.
Both the Chiefs and Packers were able to convert on third down 58 percent of the time, which also allowed them to run more plays than the Patriots – 16 more, to be exact. It sounds pretty simple to just say keep the ball away from this Patriots offense, but that's your best hope.
Where this starts is with the Dallas offensive line. The last time they had to use a similar game plan, it was against the Seahawks last season, where this line played one of its best games. As we remember, they were able to control the line of scrimmage -- both run and pass -- but more importantly, they were able to keep Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch off the field.
Against the Patriots, they will need the same type of effort. Bill Belichick understands that the one advantage that the Cowboys have is with their offensive line -- and that has to worry him. In studying their opening game, Pittsburgh had success with their offensive line blocking this Patriots front. The Steelers were able to create opportunities in the running game, but also in the passing game.
For Dallas to win it is going to be on their offensive line to control this game by converting third downs and winning the time of possession battle. It has been a struggle for this line early in this season, but as a group we have seen them do it before.
New Patriots Win If:
On offense alone, the Patriots are good enough to win this game. They can put a tremendous amount of pressure not only on this Dallas defense, but their offense as well.
The Patriots score points at such a high rate, it forces you on offense to try and keep up. For the Patriots to win this game they are going to need to continue that approach. If they can make the Cowboys be one-dimensional on offense and rely on Brandon Weeden to have to make plays, then their defense can just tee off on him.
Where this Patriots offensive attack could struggle is in finding ways to protect Brady. Rod Marinelli knows that he cannot allow Brady to sit in the pocket and make throws. The one thing I have noticed about Brady and the way in which he plays now -- and this is very similar to Tony Romo -- is that when he feels pressure around him, then he tends to just go to the ground.
I expect we will see Marinelli try and attack the middle of the pocket, not only with his defensive linemen but by blitzing linebackers, as well. The Patriots have three rookie starters inside and up until this point they have been solid. If there is a weak link its guard Shaquille Mason. He has had his moments where he plays off balance and gets a little over-extended.
For the Patriots to win this game, they are going to need to handle this Dallas front seven and be able to deal all the different combinations they will have thrown at them.