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5 questions with Blogging The Boys: Running game will be key for Patriots against Cowboys

We spoke with SB Nation’s Cowboys blog about the Patriots’ Week 4 opponent.

NFL: OCT 17 Cowboys at Patriots Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Straight off their first win of the season, the New England Patriots will take on one of the most talented teams in the NFL: the Dallas Cowboys, owners of a 2-1 record, will host the Patriots at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.

In order to get a better understanding of who the Patriots will be up against in Week 4, we exchanged questions with David Halprin of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Blogging The Boys — the SB Nation community for all things Cowboys.

Here is what David told us about the upcoming game.

1. What happened last week in Arizona? Did the Cardinals just capitalize on a depleted Cowboys offensive line and a secondary that just lost Trevon Diggs?

There were a lot of elements that went into the loss for the Cowboys. One inexplicable reason is that the Cowboys always lose to the Cardinals. Arizona has beaten Dallas seven out of the last eight times they have played. It’s just a weird quirk where the Cowboys fail against the Cardinals.

In this specific game, the injuries were an issue. Having Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Tyler Biadasz out along the offensive line is going to be a problem, and that certainly played into it with penalties, pressure and poor redzone performance. And while the Cowboys secondary has plenty of talent even without Trevon Diggs, they seemed unsure and confused about assignments, and that may have been a ripple effect of having to move guys around to cover for Diggs.

Penalties were also a big factor. The Cowboys consistently shot themselves in the foot during the game, including wiping out a huge punt return that could have put them right back in the game. I don’t like to blame refs, but they missed a ton of holding calls on the Cardinals offense, and they picked up a flag that was an obvious pass interference in the end zone that should have set Dallas up at the 1-yard line.

The two biggest issues the Cowboys had were blown opportunities in the red zone, and a terrible run defense. Dallas scored one touchdown on five trips to the red zone, coming off a week where they scored two touchdowns on six trips to the red zone. The Cowboys lead the league in red zone opportunities, but are near last in TD percentage once there. It’s a problem that has yet to be resolved. The Cowboys defense has been susceptible to the run for years, but the Cardinals just absolutely abused the Cowboys to the tune of over 220 yards rushing.

2. Dak Prescott seems to throwing quickly and underneath a lot this season. Is that to compensate for their health issues up front? Or is that just a schematic preference?

That is directly the result of a new offense in Dallas. The team let go of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in the offseason. Head coach Mike McCarthy, along with new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, took over the offense. They have introduced a lot of West Coast principles into the offense. So you naturally get shorter patterns and a scheme where the dropback of the QB is timed with the routes, and those are usually shorter, horizontal passes than the deeper shots under Kellen Moore. The Cowboys are looking to get the ball quickly into the hands of their playmakers and let them work for YAC. Outside of the red zone is has been very successful, but once they hit the 20-yard line things have been breaking down.

3. How in the world does one slow down Micah Parsons and this loaded Cowboys defensive front?

There are only a couple of things you can do to slow him down and limit his production in a game. One is the obvious, you double- and triple-team him. That is the tactic most teams take. They decide to throw their offensive line balance in Parsons’ direction and try to slow him down with a double-team. Honestly, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve watched him beat plenty of double-teams. But even when he doesn’t beat it, he sets up one-on-one situations for guys like DeMarcus Lawrence, Osa Odighizuwa and the rest of Dallas’ very deep pass rush. So, you better not hold the ball too long or the Cowboys pass rush will get home.

The other thing to do is run right at him and let his aggressive nature take himself out of the play. The Cardinals did this on a few plays and Parsons blew into the backfield but had taken the wrong gap or angle and the Cardinals hit the empty space he created. Still, teams just have to accept that Parsons is going to create a certain amount of havoc in their backfield.

4. How have the Cowboys adjusted to the loss of Diggs?

The evidence from the game against the Cardinals says not very well. They have moved DaRon Bland out to the outside corner and he’s a competent defender. Jourdan Lewis has come in to man the slot, a position he held for years until Bland beat him out. It’s not that the Cowboys don’t have the talent to absorb the loss of Diggs, but the secondary as a whole looked unsure of assignments in the Cardinals game. They weren’t the usual aggressive secondary that attacks the offense. My guess is that with a full week to learn and practice without Diggs, they will be a lot better this week.

5. The Patriots are 6.5-point underdogs on the road, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. How can New England pull off the upset?

Run the ball effectively. The best part of the Cowboys team is their pass rush. They just have waves of guys who can get to the quarterback, and that is led by Micah Parsons who is a game-wrecker. So the more you can run the ball and move the chains, the less danger you put your quarterback in. The Cowboys thrive on sacks and turnovers, so try to negate that with a solid ground game.

On defense, don’t give up big plays by containing the Cowboys playmakers once they have the ball in their hands. You have to be sure tacklers and keep the YAC to a minimum. The Cowboys love to get the lead and then bleed the clock with the run and short passing game. You have to be sure not to blow assignments and make sure to wrap up the ball carrier.

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