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Patriots vs Cowboys preview: New England faces a tough challenge in Week 6

Related: What we learned about the Patriots and the NFL in Week 5

Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Fresh off a hard-fought victory over the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots will need a quick turnaround given the challenge that awaits. The team is heading into its Week 6 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys as 4-point underdogs, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, and it is not hard to see why: while the Patriots are 2-3 at the moment, the Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 4-1 record.

Dallas has been one of the best looking teams in football as of late, winning its last four games and playing some good football on both sides of the ball. The offense is productive, the defense opportunistic, and the results speak for themselves: at the moment, the Cowboys are ranked second in the NFC playoff picture behind only the 5-0 Arizona Cardinals.

With all that being said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.

Offense

Points scored: 34.0/game (2nd)

Yards gained: 2,198 (2nd)

Passing: 123-for-166, 1,334 yards, 13 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 0.259 EPA (5th)

Rushing: 163 carries, 864 yards, 6 touchdowns, 0.026 EPA (4th)

Dallas features one of the most potent offensive attacks in football. The passing game led by Dak Prescott has been impressive despite ranking only 23rd in the league in attempts. While not all of those points came courtesy of the offense — two pick-sixes need to be added to the equation — the team managed to score 36-plus in three straight games.

Defense

Points against: 23.4/game (14th)

Yards given up: 1,952 (25th)

Passing defense: 135-for-208, 1,555 yards, 10 touchdown, 10 interceptions, -0.016 EPA (7th)

Rushing defense: 94 carries, 397 yards, 3 touchdowns, -0.093 EPA (17th)

Led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Trevon Diggs, Dallas’ defense has been pretty good as well. While not making as much headlines as the other side of the ball it has been stout against both the run and the pass. Most importantly it has been opportunistic: the Cowboys defense has picked off ten passes and recovered a pair of fumbles.

Week 1 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: L 31-29

Week 2 at Los Angeles Chargers: W 20-17

Week 3 vs Philadelphia Eagles: W 41-21

Week 4 vs Carolina Panthers: W 36-28

Week 5 vs New York Giants: W 44-20

After starting the season with a loss against Tom Brady and the reigning world champions, the Cowboys went on a four-game winning streak that saw them outscore their opponents with an average score of 35-22. While the victorious against Philadelphia and New York were impressive, the team’s biggest win of the season so far arguably came in Week 2 against the Chargers: the loss is Los Angeles’ only one of the season.

What does stand out about the Cowboys’ schedule so far is that the last three games all happened at home. When forced to leave Texas so far, the team has been just 1-1 — some hope for the 2-3 Patriots.

Offense

QB Dak Prescott; RB Ezekiel Elliot; WR CeeDee Lamb, WR Amari Cooper; TE Dalton Schultz, TE Blake Jarwin; LT Tyron Smith, LG Connor Williams, C Tyler Biadasz, RG Zack Martin, RT Terence Steele

Led by veteran quarterback and potential NFL Comeback Player of the Year Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have talent all over the board on the offensive side of the ball. Ezekiel Elliot leads the team in yards from scrimmage (507), while the receiving duo of CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper is one of the best in the business. The tight ends have proven themselves as productive players as well, with the offensive line anchored by Tyron Smith and Zack Martin still among the premier units in the game.

Defense

DE Randy Gregory, DT Osa Odighizuwa*, DE Tarell Basham, DE Brent Urban; LB Micah Parsons*, LB Leighton Vander Esch; CB Trevon Diggs, CB Anthony Brown, CB Jourdan Lewis; SS Jayron Kearse, FS Damontae Kazee

*rookies

While Trevon Diggs stands out, the Cowboys field some other big names on defense as well. Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch are former first-round draft picks in the linebacker room, while Randy Gregory and Tarell Basham are also well-established. The biggest surprise so far this season might actually be third-round rookie Osa Odighizuwa, who has established himself as a starting defensive tackle.

Specialists

K Greg Zuerlein, P Bryan Anger, LS Jacob McQuaide; KR Tony Pollard, PR CeeDee Lamb

Dallas features plenty of experience in the kicking game, even though the unit has seen its ups and downs so far this season. Greg Zuerlein has made just 81.8 percent of his field goal tries (9 of 11) as well as 89.5 percent of his point-after kicks (17 of 19). Opposing teams, meanwhile, gain significantly more yards on kickoff returns than Dallas’ Tony Pollard does — 29.2 versus 21.3. That said, CeeDee Lamb has been productive returning punts as his 12.3-yard average shows.

QB Dak Prescott: A gruesome injury knocked Prescott out of the 2020 season but the star quarterback is back under center for the Cowboys this year. The offense as a whole is significantly better because of his return: Prescott has completed 73.9 percent of his throws through five games (122 of 165) for 1,368 yards as well as 13 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. One of the most productive passers in the league, he has shown that he knows how to use the talent around him — including his favorite deep-threat receiver...

WR CeeDee Lamb: While not the most productive player on Dallas’ offense — an honor that belongs to the aforementioned Ezekiel Elliott — Lamb is a player worth keeping an eye on. After all, he has gained 14.5 yards per reception so far this season and is leading the club with 348 receiving yards on 24 catches. Lamb also has caught a pair of touchdowns and will be a challenging matchup for a New England secondary that struggled in Week 5 against the Houston Texans.

RB Tony Pollard: While Ezekiel Elliot is still the Cowboys’ undisputed RB1, Tony Pollard has been a productive player for them as well. Serving as a rotational option alongside the superstar runner, Pollard is second on the team with 418 scrimmage yards. On a per-play basis, he is even more productive than Elliot: Pollard is gaining 6.4 yards per rushing attempt and 7.8 yards per reception compared to Elliot’s 5.3 and 6.1, respectively.

CB Trevon Diggs: Only one player in the NFL has more than three interceptions so far this season. That player is Trevon Diggs, who has picked off six throws in five games. The former second-round draft pick has been impressive so far, running one of his interceptions back for a touchdown and generally finding himself around the football on a regular basis. While Diggs has also given up 19 catches for 335 yards, his playmaking ability makes him a dangerous defender to challenge.

Head coach: Mike McCarthy

Coordinators: Kellen Moore (offense), Dan Quinn (defense), John Fassel (special teams)

Now in his second season in Dallas, long-time Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has a 10-11 record. However, he spent the majority of his first season with the team without injured quarterback Dak Prescott; the Cowboys went just 6-10 in McCarthy’s first year at the helm.

The 57-year-old retained some parts of the previous coaching staff, most prominently offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. He did add new coordinators responsible for the defense and special teams operations; both ex-Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and long-time NFL assistant John Fassel bring considerable experience to the table.

The team’s coaching staff also has some ties to the Patriots. Fassel’s assistant, Ben McDaniels, is the brother of New England’s offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. Strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash, meanwhile, spent 11 seasons with the club before his departure after the 2015 season.

The Patriots and Cowboys have met 13 times so far, with none of the meetings taking place in the postseason:

  • Patriots wins: 6
  • Cowboys wins: 7

While Dallas leads the series after winning the first seven meetings between the two organizations, the Patriots have won the last six games going all the way back to the late 1990s. Along the way, the Cowboys went 0-4 when traveling to Foxborough.