It's not very often that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick tips his hand as to how he's approaching his next opponent. It seems like there are no secrets to the team's approach to their week 5 match-up against the Dallas Cowboys.
Stop the run. Force back-up quarterback Brandon Weeden to throw the ball to a Dez Bryant-less offense. Rinse. Repeat.
The Patriots added two huge bodies to their defensive line at the start of the bye week in former Saints defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and in former Packers defensive lineman Khyri Thornton. Hicks is 6'5, 325 lbs, Thornton is 6'3, 315 lbs, and they're joined by 6'2, 325 lbs Sealver Siliga, 6'2, 320 lbs Malcom Brown, and 6'6, 350 lbs Alan Branch.
This doesn't include Dominique Easley, who weighs somewhere in the area of 290 lbs.
Why has Belichick been giving so much attention to the New England defensive line?
Through four weeks, the Patriots rank last in the league, allowing 4.88 yards per carry (YPC) to opposing teams. The defense is allowing 5.86 YPC on first down, 31st in the league. Opponents convert 22.2% of first down carries into a first down, the 3rd worst rate in the league.
The defense has been struggling at stopping the run early in drives and have been forcing the team into difficult 2nd and 3rd down situations. New England knows they have to key into the Cowboys running backs to stop the Dallas attack.
"[Weeden] did a good job of getting the ball to his outlet receivers, used the backs well," Belichick said in his Sunday press conference. "They had a lot of production...They have a great offensive line. They have good skill players.
"They have really good backs, a lot of depth in their backfield. I think [Weeden's] done a good job of utilizing those guys."
The Cowboys run the ball on first down 58% of the time, 8th most in the league, and running back Joseph Randle leads the team with 44 touches on first down. Running back Darren McFadden is second on the team with 22 touches on first down.
According to the tea leaves, the New England is going to try and limit the Dallas rushing attack and force Weeden to win with passes down the field on 3rd-and-long situations.