The Patriots’ tough stretch for the first quarter (or so) of the season continues Sunday against one of the league’s most talented teams.
They travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, who many would understandably argue have one of the league’s top few rosters in the league, even after losing to the Cardinals last week.
Here are eight players to monitor on that Cowboys roster for Sunday’s game.
After throwing a league-high 15 interceptions in just 12 games last season, Prescott vowed to keep his turnovers down in 2023, aiming to throw fewer than 10 interceptions.
So far, Prescott is on pace to hold onto that promise. He’s thrown just one interception through the first three games. It should be noted though that the Cowboys held a double-digit lead through much of the first two games, so Prescott hasn’t had to necessarily make many high-leverage passes.
That could change Sunday if the Patriots’ defense continues to get its way. The Patriots’ defense has allowed just 52 points through the first three games, forcing pressure on opposing quarterbacks to make big plays in order to win games.
Prescott delivered the last time he went up against the Patriots, throwing for 445 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score in overtime. However, Prescott also put his team in a spot where they had to come back late due to two red zone turnovers, throwing an interception to Kyle Dugger and fumbling while trying to break the plane.
Red zone issues have plagued Prescott and the Cowboys so far this season. They’re tied for the fourth-worst red zone efficiency in the league so far this season. Prescott’s lone pick this season came in the red zone, throwing a key interception late in last week’s loss to the Cardinals.
If the Cowboys can’t deliver in the red zone again and Prescott reverts to his turnover-prone ways, the margin for error gets larger for the Patriots.
There are multiple reasons why Ezekiel Elliott is no longer with the Cowboys. Pollard’s emergence in 2022 might have been chief among them.
The dual-threat running back rushed for 1,0007 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and had 371 receiving yards last season, scoring 12 total touchdowns. That helped him earn the franchise tag over the offseason, paving the way for Elliott’s release.
Pollard has been one of the league’s top rushers so far this season, ranking fifth in rushing yards (264). He hasn’t been as efficient, but has posted a respectable 4.3 yards per carry.
But the reason why Pollard’s efficiency might be down could be related to Elliott’s release and the Cowboys’ inability to find a replacement for him. Pollard’s accounted for 74 of the Cowboys’ 108 touches out of the backfield so far this season (68.5 percent).
So, Pollard is able to get his yards. It’s just a matter of how efficient he’ll be. Well, the Patriots have only allowed opposing running backs to go for 4.03 yards per carry so far this season, and that’s including Raheem Mostert’s 121-yard day in Week 2. Pollard certainly has the talent to replicate that kind of performance.
CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks
For the fourth straight week, the Patriots are going up against a wide receiver with star talent.
Lamb was sixth in receiving yards (1,359) and tied for sixth in receiving touchdowns (nine) last season. He’s also torched the Patriots in the past, recording 149 receiving yards and two touchdowns in that aforementioned matchup.
As Lamb’s production has been steady for much of the last few seasons, the play of the receivers around him hasn’t. The Cowboys thought Michael Gallup could step up for Amari Cooper last season, but he didn’t, leading to the trade for Cooks over the offseason.
So far, Cooks has been a non-factor for the Cowboys. The former Patriots receiver has only caught four receptions on 11 targets for 39 yards in two games, missing the Week 2 win against the Jets.
While Cooks just turned 30, he still has shown talent in recent seasons. He had 1,037 receiving yards in 2021 and 699 receiving yards in 13 games with the Texans last season, mostly catching passes from Davis Mills.
Could this be the week Cooks gets off the schneid? Christian Gonzalez has emerged as one of the league’s top corners so far this season, earning Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for September. But if he’s covering Lamb for much of the game, that could allow Cooks to have a favorable matchup against a Patriots secondary that’s dealt with injuries through much of the early part of the season.
You can’t take a look at the Cowboys without mentioning Parsons, the current favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year.
The standout linebacker has continued his dominant ways to start his third NFL season, recording 12 combined tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble through three games. He’s also recorded 17 pressures (fifth-most in the league) and nine run stops, per Pro Football Focus.
Parsons lines up just about everywhere along the defensive line for the Cowboys, rushing from both edges and up the middle gaps. That’s obviously going to be an issue for the Patriots offensive line, which still has questions at right tackle and concerns at left guard with Cole Strange ruled out for Sunday’s game. Trent Brown had a strong showing last week, but he likely won’t be enough by himself to slow down Parsons.
The Cowboys’ strong pass rush doesn’t stop with Parsons
Lawrence has been one of the league’s top pass rushers since 2017, recording 47.5 sacks since then as he’s complemented Parsons over the last few years.
But what makes Lawrence one of the league’s most highly regarded edge players is his ability to contain the run. He recorded 65 combined tackles last season and had 33 run stops, which was the second-most among all edge rushers, via PFF. He was also third in run stops in 2020 with 26, setting the edge for Dallas consistently.
The Patriots finally got some momentum running the ball last week with Elliott rushing for 80 yards on five yards per carry. Rhamondre Stevenson, however, has struggled, rushing for just 134 yards on 2.9 yards per carry so far this season.
Now, the Cowboys allowed James Conner to rush for 98 yards on seven yards per carry last week, so their run defense isn’t indestructible. But it’ll certainly be tough for Stevenson to flip the script on his season so far going up against Lawrence.
Stephon Gilmore and DaRon Bland
Trevon Diggs’s season-ending ACL injury ahead of Week 3 means every Cowboys corner has to move up a slot, if you will, essentially making Gilmore CB1 and Bland CB2.
Both players certainly have the talent to adequately fill those roles. Patriots fans certainly remember Gilmore from his days in New England, in which he was one of the game’s best corners over the four seasons he played with the team.
Gilmore might not be playing at the level he was at when he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, but he isn’t too far off. He was strong in pass overage last season with the Colts, recording two interceptions to earn another Pro Bowl nod.
This will also mark the third time Gilmore’s gone up against the Patriots since they traded him in October 2021, playing with a different team each time. He had an interception against the Patriots when he played for the Panthers in 2021. Last season, he was only credited for allowing two catches for just 11 yards when he played the Patriots.
The 33-year-old has mostly been good for the Cowboys so far this season, only recording a major blemish in Week 2 when he gave up a 68-yard touchdown reception to Garrett Wilson. Including that play, Gilmore has allowed nine receptions on 17 targets for 167 yards this season, according to PFF’s tracking data.
Bland, on the other hand, had five interceptions last season as he mostly played slot corner. For the first time in his career, he recorded more snaps at boundary corner than as a slot corner in last week’s game against the Cardinals. He gave up two receptions on two targets for 26 yards, via PFF.
Mac Jones stated an emphasis on completing more passes down the field when he spoke to reporters this week as he’s statistically been among the worst in 20-plus yard throws so far this year. The unknown factor with Bland could help the Patriots in that regard this weekend. But his ability to get the ball could hurt them, too.
Source: Boston Globe
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