Patriots-Cowboys preview: Mac Jones, Dak Prescott and what to watch for Sunday

Two years in the past, the Cowboys pulled away from Foxboro with a surprising additional time win.

The Pats had dropped a 35-29 end to fall to 2-4. They finally recovered and reached the playoffs. But in some way, now at 1-2, their future feels much less sure than it did then.

Back then Mac Jones was a rookie recent off the primary fourth-quarter comeback of his profession amid one of many biggest seasons ever for a first-year quarterback. Today, Jones nonetheless lacks a signature win, with just one fourth-quarter comeback on his resume. The Patriots have once more been put in as underdogs in opposition to Dallas of their first assembly since then.

Dropping to 1-3 would solely amplify strain on Jones and the crew, which escaped the Jets final weekend solely by the mercy of a missed Hail Mary. A win in Dallas, after all, would signify way more.

It would imply an announcement made for a crew proving itself in a pressurized season. Here’s what ought to make or break the Patriots on Sunday.

When the Patriots run

Hello, previous good friend.

Ezekiel Elliott will return to Dallas for the primary time since his launch final March. Elliott is recent off one of the best sport of his younger Patriots profession, speeding for 80 yards in a win over the Jets final Sunday. The 28-year-old has declined to make a lot of his return, which reportedly will embody a pregame honor for the ex-Cowboy.

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Once kickoff arrives, the Patriots determine to lean closely on Elliott and fellow working again Rhamondre Stevenson. Dallas allowed 222 yards speeding to the lowly Cardinals final weekend, an effort the Pats ought to look to duplicate with a newly wholesome offensive line. Last week, the Patriots averaged 4.75 yards per carry working behind left deal with Trent Brown and eight.5 yards going behind proper guard Mike Onwenu.

Whether it is Stevenson or Elliott holding the ball, although, they need to create extra yards on their very own. Stevenson ranks within the backside 10 of the league at gaining yards after contact, averaging 0.2 yards this season, per Pro Football Reference.

“I think I need to get back to making people miss and breaking more tackles,” Stevenson stated.

Elliott additionally ranks the underside 10 of the league.

When the Patriots cross

Another previous good friend, Stephon Gilmore, may threaten to eradicate one half of the sector for the Patriots’ cross offense Sunday.

Pats gamers and coaches stated this week Gilmore seems like his previous self, a 33-year-old model of the shutdown nook who known as New England dwelling for four-plus seasons. But earlier than the Pats can steer away from Gilmore, they’re going to have to find Micah Parsons.

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The Cowboys’ All-Pro pass-rusher ranks among the many league’s elite in each metric and torments offenses by speeding from a wide range of alignments. Bill Belichick in contrast him to Lawrence Taylor this week, and Mac Jones known as him one of the best participant the crew has confronted all season.

Parsons is an authorized game-wrecker (30.5 sacks, seven pressured fumbles in two-plus seasons) who will destroy their offensive line if they are not cautious.

If they will restrict Parsons, Jones ought to have success focusing on the cornerback reverse Gilmore. Last week, that was DaRon Bland, who moved from his typical place at nickelback to exterior nook after the lack of Trevon Diggs. Safety Jayron Kearse may be a goal, contemplating how the Pats need to feed tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki.

When the Cowboys run

This is how Dallas desires to dwell offensively: working the ball and controlling the sport. It was true two years in the past in Foxboro, and hasn’t modified since. Take it from the Patriots.

“I think they have made (running) a statement through many different interviews and articles about the way they play,” defensive deal with Lawrence Guy stated this week. “They want to run the ball to control the clock, and they have a really good back to do that.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrates with working again Tony Pollard (20) after Pollard scored a landing in opposition to the Minnesota Vikings in the course of the first half of an NFL soccer sport Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs) (Stacy Bengs, AP)

“They run the ball a lot,” Bill Belichick stated. “(Tony) Pollard’s got a lot of carries. They’ve got a lot of explosive players.”

Pollard leads the league in touches, most of which have come on working performs. He’s averaging simply 4.3 yards per carry, however taking greater than 20 carries per sport. Pollard additionally has two touchdowns, whereas backup Rico Dowdle and quarterback Dak Prescott have every rushed greater than 10 occasions.

One limiting issue for Dallas may very well be the well being of its offensive line. Three starters missed final week’s loss at Arizona, and those self same three — left deal with Tyron Smith, middle Tyler Biadasz and proper guard Zack Martin — missed observe to begin this week. The Pats are additionally coping with accidents, after beginning nostril deal with Davon Godchaux damage his ankle versus the Jets and Daniel Ekuale was misplaced to a torn bicep.

When the Cowboys cross

It all begins with CeeDee Lamb.