IRVING, Texas – We've been talking about this all week, so there's no point in shying away from it. One of the youngest members of the Cowboys' roster has a tall order on his hands this weekend.
Rob Gronkowski has already tallied 308 yards and four touchdowns this season – and that's just in three games, since the Patriots had an early bye week. He has been on a roll going all the way back to last season, and it's up to the Dallas secondary to limit him.
The Cowboys have been leaning on Byron Jones to defend tight ends this season – but this is something else. That's what makes it one of the most important matchups in this entire game.
On the other side of the ball, Sunday should provide a strong challenge for a Cowboys' stalwart who hasn't yet lived up to his lofty standards.
Let's get into some more detail:
Cowboys S Byron Jones against Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski
As difficult as this matchup appears to be, Byron Jones will not back down – I know this as a fact.
Jones has been working for this moment all through training camp and the first month of the season. The day that Rod Marinelli asked Jones to carry Jason Witten during training camp – he had a plan for him in games like this.
What makes Gronkowski different than other tight ends in the league is his ability to play with power down the field. On film, he is not a quick or fast player in his routes, but he is a strong player and that is what gives defensive backs so much trouble. When Gronkowski has to make a contested catch – he is likely to win because he is just stronger in his positioning and grabbing the ball.
Jones has to be ready to deal with that strength and by working against Witten, he understands that. He might not have the ideal height to play against Gronkowski, but I do believe he has the strength and the athletic ability to stay in position. Gronkowski will try to bully Jones and he can't let that happen.
The rookie has to be able to match Gronkowski's physicality in order to have success. Jones also knows that there are going to be times where Gronkowski is just going to make a play. When that happens he is going to need to put that behind him and move on to the next play. Byron Jones is not playing with a short stick in this matchup and if he plays well – we all will know it.
Cowboys OT Tyron Smith against Patriots DE Chandler Jones
Linebacker Jamie Collins leads the Patriots in sacks, but the player I worry about the most is Chandler Jones. This will be a good matchup to watch Jones and Smith go at it. Smith hasn't got off to the type of season that we all expected him to have and Jones will put him to the test.
Jones is built more like your prototypical 5 technique in a 3-4 scheme, but he has the rush skills of a 4-3 defensive end. What makes him difficult to deal with is his length. When he can extend his hands on blockers, he has the ability to control, then shed. His get-off is quick and once he is able to get even with the blocker, he can burst to get around the corner.
Jones' pursuit speed is also outstanding. For a tall, rangy player his hips and change of direction are solid. It usually takes these types of players longer to get going -- but not Jones. He has lower body bend and body control. Upper body strength is good, and when he is engaged with the blocker he can anchor down. He makes the effort to pursue ball carriers from the backside.
The Cowboys have to make sure he is accounted for in those situations where they run the ball away from him. He has the ability to create turnovers in the pocket with his quickness and reach, and he is a hard guy to fool. Good key and diagnose both run and pass.
There are snaps where he plays in a two-point stance like a linebacker – then others where he puts his hand on the ground. Can give blockers a power rush or throw moves up the field. Complete football player.