IRVING, Texas – As is usually the case, by now you've probably heard me touch on these subjects throughout game week.
With the weekend approaching, though, it's time to collect my thoughts and put them all down. It's going to be a tough task for the Cowboys to get out of Week 5 with a win, but here are 10 big thoughts about how I think they can make that happen.
Let's take a look:
- Just going on what I have seen from the previous two weeks – look for Morris Claiborne to be carrying Julian Edelman in this game. Claiborne has been outstanding in these situations and, with his skillset, gives the coaches the best chance of limiting Edelman in what he can do. Claiborne is not going to have many opportunities to rest – Brady and Edelman play this game at an incredible pace, so he is going to have to be ready. There are also some snaps where Claiborne is going to lose the battle, but like he has in previous games – he is going to have to put that behind him and move on. This matchup is as tough as it gets, but these coaches have faith he can get the job done and that's important to Claiborne.
- Bill Belichick is not going to let Jason Witten beat him in this game. Belichick knows that the Cowboys are limited offensively with their weapons, and their best option is getting the ball in his hands. The way the Patriots normally play with safeties is one extremely deep and the other near the line to help in coverage or the running game. Both Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty have cover skill and are physical enough to handle those big tight ends. Look for Belichick to initially start with Chung on Witten, but if he struggles with the matchup, he'll switch over to McCourty to calm things down.
- The Patriots like to rotate their offensive linemen during the game. Left tackle Nate Solder is the most athletic of the two tackles but physically the weakest. Sebastian Vollmer lines up on the right side and has the slowest feet. Marcus Cannon is a powerful player but like Vollmer, tends to struggle with quickness around the edge. This is key because if Tom Brady feels pressure from the outside or the pocket closing in around him – he tends to go to the ground. I really do like DeMarcus Lawrence coming off that left side against Vollmer, especially after what I saw last week against the Saints.
- Corey White took some snaps in the nickel package last week against the Saints. One of the reasons why I felt like the front office signed White was his ability to play out of the slot and do it well. With the different personnel groups that the Patriots like to use with multiple wide receivers, look for White to have a bigger role in this game -- especially inside. He is comfortable playing this way.
- The Patriots are led in sacks by outside linebacker Jamie Collins. Jason Garrett was asked about Collins and his reply was not surprising – he thought that Collins was a perfect scheme fit for what they do. Collins is the hybrid player that teams are looking for these days. He has outstanding body control, balance and quickness. He is a long, rangy player that has some edge rush ability. Blockers have to be careful with him, because there is some power to his game when he extends his hands. Collins will be used more as that fifth rusher and must be accounted for each snap.
- With Lance Dunbar out of the lineup, I could see a situation where Lucky Whitehead takes over as the primary kickoff returner. It is not likely that they will get many opportunities to have returns with the way that kickoff rules are now, but he is a better option than Darren McFadden. I expect that we will continue to see Cole Beasley on punt returns, with Whitehead in the backup role.
- The Cowboys have to be careful how they play Dion Lewis in this game. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels likes to move him around in the formation to create matchup problems. If Lewis lines up wide like a receiver, that means that one of the safeties or linebackers will have to go outside with him. The reason that this is a problem is because Lewis is quicker than either of the safeties – and, other than Sean Lee, these linebackers tend to struggle in coverage. It's the same issue that opponents had to deal with when defending Lance Dunbar.
- Just have a feeling that Rod Marinelli is going to try and attack the middle of this Patriots offensive line with pressure. They have had some success with linebackers blitzing inside. With Rolando McClain back in the lineup, he gives this defense a physical player to get push. Marinelli has to do his best to move Brady off that spot or there will be issues. Keep an eye on how Marinelli uses both McClain and Sean Lee in this game.
- Look for Joseph Randle to once again be the starter at running back with Darren McFadden as the primary backup. I was told that Christine Michael did get some work, but it was very similar to what he got last week. Jason Garrett and this offensive staff have been consistent with their approach but in my opinion – a little stubborn.
- Going back and looking at the Kansas City and Green Bay games from last season. In both of those losses, the Patriots lost the time of possession battle 36:31 to 23:29. Opponents were 58 percent on third-down conversions and managed to hold the Patriots to only 31 percent. Opponents were also able to run an average of 17 more plays than the Patriots. For Dallas to win this game, I believe you are going to have to see these types of numbers.