From 2002-2020 the NFL’s schedule formula allowed for teams in opposing conferences to meet just once every four years. That is why Americas Team has only met with the Dallas Cowboys on five separate occasions over the past 20 years.
Well, the NFL is now forcing its players to play an extra game each season, meaning the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys do not need to wait another quadrennial (it’s a real word; look it up), and will meet each other for the second time in three seasons on Sunday.
The game will feature Dallas’ top five scoring offense facing off with New England’s top five scoring defense, just like the 2019 matchup did. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. So instead of wasting any more time, let’s take a look at exactly what has changed since the Cowboys and Patriots last matchup up on November 24, 2019.
The following 22 players from the last meeting with Dallas are still on the Patriots’ active roster:
WR N’Keal Harry, OT Isaiah Wynn, OL Ted Karras, G Shaq Mason, WR Jakobi Meyers, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Jamie Collins, LB Dont’a Hightower, LB Kyle Van Noy, CB J.C. Jackson, S Devin McCourty, K Nick Folk, P Jake Bailey, ST Matthew Slater, ST Justin Bethel, CB Jonathan Jones, CB Joejuan Williams, RB Brandon Bolden, LS Joe Cardona, LB Chase Winovich, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, DL Deatrich Wise Jr.
Offense: As will be the case for 14-of-17 games this season, Mac Jones will be seeing his opponent on Sunday for the very first time. This time he takes over for Tom Brady who started the 2019 matchup with Dallas. He will be protected by a mostly changed unit, as only Ted Karras, Shaq Mason, and Isaiah Wynn will return from the 2019 group that featured the likes of Jermaine Eluemunor, Marcus Cannon, and Marshall Newhouse. David Andrews missed the 2019 season with blood clots in his lungs.
The skill-unit will look very different as well, with just Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, and Brandon Bolden returning from that November game. The tight end group is brand new, with Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Devin Asiasi all arriving post 2019. Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor will join Meyers and Harry to make up the rest of Mac Jones’ pass catching group, while J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Damien Harris all have a chance to be active against Dallas for the very first time.
Boogeymen linebacking trio that we all know and love have returned like they never left. Of course, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins all did spend time away from the Patriots between these Cowboys games, but who cares. They will be joined by Ja’Whaun Bentley and Chase Winovich who were also active in that last Dallas game. Matthew Judon and Josh Uche were added in the place of Elandon Roberts and John Simon since 2019 to make up the rest of that core group.
New England’s other returning defenders are Devin McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Jonathan Jones, and Joejuan Williams. They will be joined by the likes of Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and Jalen Mills, who are in the place of Stephon Gilmore, Danny Shelton, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, and Byron Cowart.
Special teams: The lone group that will resemble anything like their counterpart from two years ago is the special teams unit. The battery of Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, and Joe Cardona are all back. Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick also has Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel still kicking around as well. Former special teams ace Nate Ebner is gone, but Brandon King and Cody Davis are around to pick up the slack.
Coaching staff: The coaching staff underwent a few changes this offseason. Co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich departed before the start of training camp, leaving Carmen Bricillo to coach the unit solo this season. Additions include former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia returning as a special assistant to Bill Belichick, and Bo Hardegree being added as a quarterbacks coach. Troy Brown and Vinnie Sunseri made switches from running backs to wide receivers and defense to running backs, respectively.
The following — players from the last meeting are still on the Cowboys’ active roster:
QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Amari Cooper, T Tyron Smith, T La’el Collins, G Connor Williams, G Zack Martin, TE Blake Jarwin, QB Cooper Rush, RB Tony Pollard, CB Jourdan Lewis, CB C.J. Goodwin, LB Luke Gifford, TE Dalton Schultz, DL Dorance Armstrong
Offense: If there is one thing the Dallas Cowboys do well, it’s keeping their talent. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Amari Cooper, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and that strong offensive line are all returning. This time around they’ve got a pretty good teammate in Ceedee Lamb. Other than the all world talent Lamb, there isn’t much that has changed.
Defense: On the opposite end of the spectrum you’ve got Dallas’ defense. A unit that will return ONE starter in Jourdan Lewis, who doesn’t even start in 2021. Demarcus Lawrence is on injured reserve, Dallas just released Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee retired, and Byron Jones moved on in free agency. That isn’t to say this Dallas defense doesn’t have talent, however. Trevon Diggs is the best cornerback in the NFL. Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch make up a formidable duo at linebacker. Tarrell Basham and Randy Gregory are holding things down on the defensive line while Lawrence is out, and Damonte Kazee, Malik Hooker, and Donavan Wilson have held down their secondary.
Special teams: The Cowboys’ 2019 battery have all since moved on. Greg Zuerlein has taken over kicking duties from Brett Maher, Bryan Anger is now punting in the place of Chris Jones, and L.P. Ladouceur’s old job long snapping now belongs to Jake McQuaide
Coaching staff: As is to be expected when there is a head coaching change, this Cowboys’ coaching staff looks very different from their 2019 counterpart. Mike McCarthy has taken over Jason Garrett, but retained offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, and defensive line coach Leon Lett. He brought former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn on to become defensive coordinator, as well as former Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin to be the offensive line coach.