Patriots set to face banged-up Cowboys team at a crossroads

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the New England Patriots on the bye, it was a chance to look ahead to their next opponent, the Dallas Cowboys.

The following are some thoughts/notes on the Cowboys, with the Patriots in mind, from Dallas' 26-20 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Season at a crossroads: ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer writes that Dallas has already reached a crossroads in its season.

McGill on hand to scout: As is standard operating procedure, the Patriots had a member of their personnel staff in attendance to scout the game; it was pro scout Ronnie McGill, who is in his sixth season with the club.

Injuries mount: The Cowboys entered the game with major injuries at key spots, headlined by quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant. There were three more added to the list with linebacker Sean Lee (concussion), running back Lance Dunbar (left knee) and receiver Brice Butler (hamstring). Much like the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3 from a health perspective, the Patriots seem to be catching the Cowboys at a good time because they are short-handed. One positive for Dallas: Defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain return from suspension this week.

Limited threats in passing game: No Romo, no Bryant, no major threat in the passing game. Stopping the run figures to be a No. 1 priority for the Patriots' defense, followed by checking tight end Jason Witten down the seam. Usually when one thinks of a Scott Linehan-directed passing game, the vertical aspect stands out, but that doesn't show up as much without Romo. This was pretty much a struggle for the offense, which showed late signs of life with an impressive 91-yard touchdown drive to tie at 20 late in the fourth quarter.

Four-man line on defense: Pretty straight-up stuff on defense under coordinator Rod Marinelli, with four down linemen, as the unit faded late in the fourth quarter and then in overtime. Saints quarterback Drew Brees, working primarily with a short passing game, finished 33 of 41 for 359 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys didn't provide much resistance when it counted. One thing that likely will catch the Patriots' eye: The Cowboys rip at the ball with ferocity, so ball security, always a point of emphasis, figures to be stressed.

On a week of kicking miscues, Bailey among best:. One of the Cowboys' best assets is their kicker, Dan Bailey. The league-wide struggles of kickers is a hot topic, but with Bailey on one side and Stephen Gostkowski on the other, the Dallas-New England game will feature arguably two of the game's best.