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Patriots opponent preview: Cowboys are one of the best teams in the NFL

The Patriots will travel to Texas on Sunday.

New York Jets v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have their first win of the season under the belt, but in order to make it two in a row they will have to up their game. Week 4, after all, will see them travel to Arlington to take on a Dallas Cowboys team that is among the very best in the NFL right now.

Despite a 28-16 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, the Cowboys are a formidable opponent and serious challenge. A look at the numbers they have posted so far this season illustrates this:

  • Record: 2-1 (2nd NFC East)
  • Offense: 28.7 points/game (5th), 354.3 yards/game (11th), 0.090 EPA/play (7th)
  • Defense: 12.7 points/game (3rd), 262.0 yards/game (4th), -0.203 EPA/play (3rd)
  • Scoring differential: +48 (t-3rd)
  • Turnover differential: +6 (1st)

Numbers-wise, the Cowboys field one of the best offenses and one of the best defenses in the league after three weeks and their third-best point differential is proof of that. There are questions about the quality of their opposition —the New York Giants, New York Jets, and the Cardinals — but make no mistake: this is a good team that has managed to limit mistakes and play winning football.

As a consequence, the Patriots are headed into the game as 7-point underdogs, per DraftKings Sportsbook.

So, with that all said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s Week 4 opponent and what can be expected of the players on its roster.

(Note: 53-man roster up-to-date as of Wednesday, 7 a.m. ET; *indicates projected starter)


Dak Prescott* (4), Cooper Rush (10), Trey Lance (15)

Now in his eighth season as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback, Dak Prescott continues to be one of the league’s better players at his position. While his raw statistics are not necessarily outstanding — 69-for-102 (67.6%), 647 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT — his expected points added per play (0.210) have him ranked as the sixth most productive QBs in the NFL. Even with long-time offensive coordinator Kellen Moore having departed to Los Angeles, Prescott and new OC Brian Schottenheimer appear to be developing some solid chemistry.

While the backups will hopefully not come into play on Sunday, third-stringer Trey Lance in particular is worth pointing out. The third overall selection in the 2021 draft, Lance flamed out in San Francisco and was traded to Dallas in August.

Offensive backfield

Tony Pollard* (20), Rico Dowdle (23), Hunter Luepke (40 | FB), Deuce Vaughn (42)

With Ezekiel Elliott now in New England, the Cowboys have handed the keys to their running back position fully over to Tony Pollard. He has shown why so far this season: Pollard has not only carried the ball 62 times for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns, he also is ranked second on the team with 12 receptions that he took for an additional 48 yards.

The depth options behind Pollard have combined to touch the ball just 35 times for 174 yards and one score. A majority of that production — 21-113-1 — came courtesy of Rico Dowdle.

Wide receivers

CeeDee Lamb* (88), Michael Gallup* (13), Brandin Cooks* (3), Jalen Tolbert (18), KaVontae Turpin (9 | KR | KR | PR), Jalen Brooks (83)

The Cowboys’ receiving group may not have the same star power as Philadelphia’s or Miami’s, but it is still among the best in football. A big reason for that is CeeDee Lamb: the fourth-year man has been Prescott’s favorite target so far this season, catching 19 of the 24 passes coming his way for 273 yards.

The rest of the group is not shabby either, with Michael Gallup (8-105) and ex-Patriot Brandin Cooks (4-39) also involved. The numbers, again, do not stand out so far but the potential with this group is obvious.

Tight ends

Jake Ferguson* (87), Peyton Hendershot (89), Luke Schoonmaker (86)

Of the three touchdowns thrown by Dak Prescott so far this season, two have gone to the tight end position. Starter Jake Ferguson has caught one, along with nine other passes for a combined 70 yards. Luke Schoonmaker, meanwhile, has managed to turn his lone reception into a 1-yard score.

Offensive tackles

Tyron Smith* (77 | LT), Terence Steele* (78 | RT), Asim Richards (76)

The Cowboys have had one of the top offensive lines in football for the past decade, and the unit is still among the best in the league in 2023. The bookends, Tyron Smith and Terence Steele, are a big reason why: they have surrendered just five quarterback pressures and no sacks in a combined 362 pass blocking snaps. They also are pretty good blocking the run.

Interior offensive line

Tyler Smith* (73 | LG), Tyler Biadasz* (63 | C), Zack Martin* (70 | RG), Chuma Edoga (71), T.J. Bass (66)

The interior of the Cowboys’ O-line is equally impressive as the tackle position, but it did have some injury issues this year. Left guard Tyler Smith missed the first two games of the season, while both center Tyler Biadasz and right guard Zack Martin were out against Arizona in Week 3. Their statuses are worth keeping an eye on this week.

Interior defensive line

Osa Odighizuwa* (97), Johnathan Hankins* (95), Neville Gallimore (96), Mazi Smith (58), Chauncey Golston (99)

The Cowboys’ defense has been very good this season, but if there is one relative weakness it is defending the run: the unit is ranked 17th with an EPA of -0.081 per play. Inconsistent play up front has contributed to that, but that does not mean the front line is not a quality unit. It very much is, especially against the pass: Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston have had success as pass rushers, notching a combined 13 disruptions including four sacks.

Defensive edge

Micah Parsons* (11), DeMarcus Lawrence* (90), Dorance Armstrong (92), Sam Williams (54), Dante Fowler Jr. (56), Viliami Fehoko (93)

DeMarcus Lawrence has been an outstanding player for the Cowboys ever since his arrival in 2014, and he is currently ranked second on the team with two sacks and nine other quarterback pressures. However, the man leading both categories is stealing the show in Dallas this season: Micah Parsons is one of the best defenders in the league right now, regardless of position.

Parsons has put up 17 pressures already, including a team-leading four sacks, and has also notched one forced fumble and recovery each. In addition, he is an impressive edge setter in the run game as well. The two-time first-team All-Pro is a definitive issue, and poses a major threat to New England’s up-and-down offensive line.

Off-the-ball linebackers

Leighton Vander Esch* (55), Damone Clark* (33), Devin Harper (50), Markquese Bell (14)

After an injury-filled rookie season in 2022, former fifth-round draft pick Damone Clark has proven himself an important player in the Cowboys defense. Together with veteran Leighton Vander Esch, he is forming the core of the team’s off-the-ball linebacker personnel.


Stephon Gilmore* (21), DaRon Bland* (26), Jourdan Lewis* (2), Noah Igbinoghene (19), C.J. Goodwin (29), Eric Scott Jr. (37)

The Cowboys will be without All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs this week, and for the remainder of the season: the. 25-year-old, who has been a starter in the Dallas secondary since his arrival in 2020, suffered a torn ACL in practice last week.

With him out, the Cowboys’ main man at the position is former Patriot Stephon Gilmore. Now in his first season with the team, Gilmore has been his usual productive self: he has given up just nine catches on 17 targets for 167 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He may no longer be on his 2019 Defensive Player of the Year level, but he is still a good cornerback.

The same is true for the other projected starters, DaRon Bland and Jourdan Lewis: opposing quarterbacks have completed just eight of 15 combined passes thrown their way for 47 yards and one interception.


Jayron Kearse* (1), Malik Hooker* (28), Donovan Wilson (6), Juanyeh Thomas (30), Israel Mukuamu (24)

The Cowboys do not have the biggest names in their safety room, but the group as a whole has been used quite a bit. Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson are the top three, with Kearse and Hooker catching one interception each so far this year.


Brandon Aubrey (17 | K), Bryan Anger (5 | P | H), Trent Sieg (44 | LS)

The Cowboys’ kicking operation looks a lot different this year. Brandon Aubrey, who has made all 10 of his field goals and six of seven extra points, was signed to handle place-kicking duties, with Trent Sieg joining the team in the offseason after a five-year stint with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.

The return game is led by wideout KaVontae Turpin. While he has not had a lot of opportunities — three punt returns for a 5.7-yard average — he was a highly productive player for Dallas last year.