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Patriots vs Cowboys advanced stats: Stephon Gilmore not the only standout in New England’s secondary

Related: Patriots vs Cowboys snap counts: How New England replaced three starters against Dallas

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots jumped to an early lead against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, and were able to fend off any attempts by one of the league’s best offenses to come back into the game. How did they do it, and ultimately defeat its opponent with a final score of 13-9? Let’s dig a little deeper into the advanced statistics to come out of the game to find out.

Pass distribution

NFL Next Gen Stats

The Patriots’ pass coverage did a tremendous job against one of the most productive aerial attacks in the NFL, which in turn made life hard for Dak Prescott. The fourth-year man threw for only 212 yards — his lowest of the season so far — and also turned the ball over once when Stephon Gilmore stepped in front of a throw intended for Amari Cooper. While Prescott had success in the short passing game, he was unable to successfully target the deeper areas of the field against New England’s tremendous secondary.

As was pointed out yesterday, Tom Brady’s statistics don’t do his performance against the Cowboys justice. Playing with two rookies as his second and third receiving options and in difficult conditions that contributed to six of his passes being dropped, the 42-year-old finished with a completion rate of only 45.0%. But despite the numbers working against him, he still played a solid game and was not afraid to target the deeper areas of the field if need be.

Offensive rush direction

NFL Next Gen Stats

With starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn back in the lineup and immediately making a big impact, the Patriots had one of their most successful days of the season running the football. Led by Sony Michel, who averaged 4.3 yards on his 20 carries and served as the clear top option at the position, New England gained 104 yards on the ground on 25 rushing attempts. The raw numbers may not stand out, but they represent a step in the right direction after an inconsistent stretch on the ground.

Pass receiving

Pass receiving statistics

Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Yards after Catch Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Drops
Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Yards after Catch Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Drops
Julian Edelman 68 11 8 93 5 0 0 97.9 2
N'Keal Harry 57 4 1 10 0 1 0 79.2 2
Jakobi Meyers 54 8 4 74 32 0 0 82.3 1
Benjamin Watson 49 1 0 0 0 0 0 39.6 0
Matt LaCosse 34 1 1 5 0 0 0 87.5 0
James White 21 3 1 -6 -1 0 0 42.4 0
Rex Burkhead 15 5 2 14 13 0 0 47.9 1
Pro Football Focus

With both Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett II inactive because of injury, the Patriots turned to rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers to complement Julian Edelman in three-receiver sets. The two youngsters performed reasonably well given the difficult circumstances and conditions — Harry scored the game’s lone touchdown, Meyers had a career-high 74 receiving yards — but, as expected, had their ups and downs and finished with three drops compared to a combined five receptions.

Julian Edelman also dropped a pair of passes during the rainy game, but he still stood out as New England’s most productive pass catcher yet again: the veteran caught eight of the 11 passes thrown his way for a game-high 93 yards. Edelman continues to perform as the team’s clear number one receiver, but should benefit from Sanu and Dorsett returning to the lineup and the rookies getting more confident within the system and alongside Tom Brady.

Receiver separation

NFL Next Gen Stats

Looking at the chart above, one can see a clear difference between rookie wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry. While Tom Brady trusts the latter to make contested catches as evidenced by his 1.56 yards of separation per target, the undrafted free agent signing Meyers is only seeing the football when he is more open on average. This is neither a surprise nor a knock against Meyers, though.

It is rather a sign of Brady trusting first-round pick Harry to come away with the football even when covered closely. The results were not always pretty against the Cowboys, as evidenced by the 21-year-old’s 25% catch rate and two drops, but his connection with his quarterback appears to be trending in the right direction.

Pass protection

Pass protection statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Isaiah Wynn 70 1.0 3 2
Shaq Mason 70 1.0 0 0
Ted Karras 70 0.0 0 0
Joe Thuney 70 0.0 0 0
Marcus Cannon 62 0.0 2 1
Benjamin Watson 49 0.0 0 1

As noted above, the return of Isaiah Wynn helped the Patriots’ offensive line settle down a bit after an inconsistent last few weeks. Wynn himself played a solid game, but started slowly against talented Cowboys pass rusher Robert Quinn. He ultimately found his groove but still finished the game being responsible for six of the 11 quarterback pressures New England surrendered on Tom Brady’s 39 drop-backs.

All in all, Brady was either sacked, hit or hurried on 28.2% of passing plays. Those numbers again do not necessarily jump off the page, but the line as a whole appeared to be functioning much better with Wynn in the lineup as opposed to his replacement Marshall Newhouse. The veteran swing tackle did still see some time on the field versus Dallas, though, and subbed in for Marcus Cannon on eight snaps.

Cannon, meanwhile, entered the game being listed as questionable on the injury report. Drawing the praise of both head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady after the game, the veteran surrendered only three pressures despite being clearly still impacted by the illness that forced New England to put him on the list on Friday.

Pass rush/run defense

Pass rush/run defense statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Kyle Van Noy 55 0.0 1 1 1
Patrick Chung 55 0.0 0 0 1
Jamie Collins Sr. 53 0.0 0 3 0
Dont'a Hightower 48 0.0 1 0 0
Duron Harmon 45 0.0 1 0 0
Danny Shelton 44 0.0 1 0 0
Lawrence Guy 43 0.0 0 0 2
John Simon 35 0.0 0 2 0
Adam Butler 24 0.0 0 1 0
Elandon Roberts 19 0.0 1 0 0
Chase Winovich 11 0.0 0 1 0

For the first time all season, the Patriots defense failed to sack an opposing quarterback. But while Dak Prescott was not taken down by New England’s pass rush, the team was still able to pressure him on 13 of his 33 drop-backs for a rate of 39.4%. Considering his mobility in the pocket and ability to escape from pressure, the game can therefore still be seen as a successful one from a pass-rushing perspective — especially since Prescott was unable to get into a rhythm all day long.

Defensive rush direction

NFL Next Gen Stats

New England’s run defense had a nice day against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11, but struggled somewhat to contain the Cowboys’ potent rushing attack. With the pass defense apparently a priority for the world champions, Ezekiel Elliott was able to gain 86 yards on 21 carries for an average of 4.1 yards per run. The star running back was productive, but not the most efficient of Dallas’ ball-carriers: Tony Pollard averaged 4.8 yards on his four carries.

Pass rush separation

NFL Next Gen Stats

Primarily going up against Isaiah Wynn, Robert Quinn was able to find some success and consistently get close to Tom Brady as his average distance of 3.6 yards per pass rushing attempt illustrates. Wynn acknowledged after the game that it took some time for him to get used to the Cowboys’ sack leader, and the former first-round draft pick improved as the game went along.

On the Patriots’ side, meanwhile, defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy stand out. Playing 44 and 43 defensive snaps, respectively, the two 300-plus-pound linemen were able to generate a solid upfield push against Dallas’ offensive line in the passing game despite a heavy workload.

Pass coverage

Pass coverage statistics

Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakups
Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakups
Stephon Gilmore 64 4 0 0 0 1 0.0 1
Patrick Chung 55 1 0 0 0 0 39.6 0
J.C. Jackson 48 6 3 24 0 0 60.4 0
Dont'a Hightower 48 2 0 0 0 0 39.6 1
Jonathan Jones 39 6 3 67 0 0 90.3 1
Ja'Whaun Bentley 14 2 1 5 0 0 56.3 0

Stephon Gilmore continued to show why he is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL at the moment: the 29-year-old shut down the Cowboys’ number one receiver, Amari Cooper, and also registered an interception that set up a field goal. Gilmore was outstanding, but not the only coverage defender worth talking about. J.C. Jackson, for example, surrendered only 24 receiving yards on six targets while taking over a bigger role with Jason McCourty’s inactivity.

Meanwhile, neither Patrick Chung nor Dont’a Hightower surrendered a single catch while Jonathan Jones — despite being in coverage on the game’s longest play, a 52-yard catch-and-run by Randall Cobb — also had a solid outing and single-handedly spoiled two of the Cowboys’ 13 attempts on third down: he broke up a third down pass on Dallas’ first drive of the day, and in the third quarter made an impressive open-field tackle to force another punt.

All in all, the Patriots can feel very good about their pass coverage against a team that led the NFL in yardage gained through the air entering the week.