The 2-3 New England Patriots are in for a challenge this week, as they are set to face off against the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys in Foxborough on Sunday, October 17th at 4:25 PM EST.
This Week 6 matchup will be one of the hardest games on the Patriots’ 2021 schedule. Dallas possesses a well-rounded and efficient offense. Some might say they have the best offense in the entire NFL. Plus, up to this point in the season, the Cowboy’s defense has exceeded expectations.
All that said, Dallas is still beatable. Here are the Patriots’ five keys to victory in Sunday’s showdown with the Cowboys.
Patriots Keys to Victory
Ball security must be a priority
It’s absolutely critical for the Patriots to improve their ball security this Sunday. Whether it be interceptions or fumbles, New England has had issues keeping the ball safe this season.
The Patriots have nine total giveaways through five games. That ranks third-most in the NFL. What’s even more concerning is that the total giveaway number could be much higher but New England was fortunate enough to recover some of their own fumbles.
It’s also important to note that the Cowboys are second in the NFL in takeaways with 12. Trevon Diggs alone has six interceptions.
If the turnover trend continues it’s going to be extremely hard for the Patriots to beat a good team like the Cowboys. Giving Dak Prescott and the Cowboy offense short fields and extra possessions is a recipe for disaster.
New England simply doesn’t have the margin for error to win games while turning the ball over. They must emphasize ball security this week.
Make the tight ends the offensive focal point
The Cowboy defense has had their fair share of struggles covering tight ends this season. Dallas has given up 27 catches, 330 yards, and three touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season.
On the Patriots side of things, Hunter Henry is coming off his best game this season (6 catches, 75 yards, and a touchdown). Week 6 seems like a perfect time to get Jonnu Smith more involved and make the tight ends the focal point of this week’s offensive gameplan.
For Henry, that means being a middle of the field and red zone target. Essentially, Henry should act as Mac Jones‘ safety blanket, like he did last week against Houston.
As for Smith, Josh McDaniels needs to be a bit more creative in getting him the ball, but at the same time, Smith needs to play better too. The talent is there, but the execution hasn’t been. Getting Smith the ball in space would be a good way to get him going.
Bottom line: The Patriots need to get their big-money tight ends involved in this game. They have a mismatch that can be exploited.
Control the line of scrimmage on offense
Winning the line of scrimmage is always a key to victory, but its importance is magnified this week. Randy Gregory, Osa Odighizuwa, and Micah Parsons are capable of causing some serious problems for the Patriots if the offensive line doesn’t come ready to play.
The New England offensive line has underperformed severely so far this season. Ironically they had a solid game last week with four out of five starters out, albeit against the lowly Texans. This week they’ll be getting back Michael Onwenu and possibly Isaiah Wynn and Shaq Mason.
At the end of the day, to beat Dallas, the Patriots will need to score a good amount of points.
The Cowboys’ offense is inevitably going to put points on the board. To hang with them, New England needs to limit sacks and open up holes in the running game. If they can’t do that, they would then be putting a ton of pressure on the defense to get consistent stops. That’s just not a winning formula.
Make the Cowboys’ offense one-dimensional
One of the things that makes the Cowboys’ offense so tough to stop is that they do everything well.
Dallas has one of the best wide receiving corps in the league and Prescott is playing like a top-five quarterback. Plus, tight end Dalton Schultz is quietly having a productive season in his second year as the Cowboys starter.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have two very talented running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Throw in a top offensive line and you’ve got a team that can air it out and also run it down your throat.
It’s not realistic to ask the Patriots’ defense to shut down both the passing attack and the running game. However, if the Patriots’ defense could neutralize one aspect of the Cowboys’ offense it would go a long way in slowing them down.
For example, in the past, we’ve seen the Patriots willingly give up some yards on the ground to dedicate more resources to stopping the pass.
Having a game plan like that makes your opponent one-dimensional, which in theory should make them easier to play against. It’s not a perfect way to go about it, as it’s still possible you could give up a ton of points, but you don’t have much of a choice when going up against an offense as good as Dallas.
Win the red zone battle
For the Patriots, it’s as easy as scoring touchdowns in the red zone and holding the Cowboys to field goals. Sounds simple right? Well, it’s a lot easier said than done when you consider the Patriots’ offense has struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone for a large chunk of the season.
Aggressive playcalling from McDaniels in the red area is going to be massively important this week. That means trusting your rookie quarterback to throw the ball. We’ve seen New England play conservatively in the red zone a lot this season, but that’s a sure-fire way to lose this game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots are likely to have some “bend but don’t break” to their game plan this week. It’s not ideal, but even if the Cowboys gain a lot of yardage, the New England defense can still be successful if they tighten up in the red zone.
That means your playmakers need to make big plays in the red area. Some sacks from the likes of Matt Judon, Jamie Collins, and Dont’a Hightower would be big.
This article was edited by Luke Ervin.